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HINGTON -- An odd scene unfolded at Nationals Park on Monday night. Trailing, 2-0, the Nationals were retired in order in the bottom of the ninth. And the fans cheered.
That cheer paled in comparison with the roar that had erupted half an inning earlier, when the crowd learned -- either by the out-of-town scoreboard, their cellphones or word of mouth -- that the Braves had lost, 2-1, to the Pirates about 250 miles east, at PNC Park.
The Nationals began the night needing either a win over the Phillies or a Braves loss to the Pirates. They got the latter, clinching the National League East without ever scoring a run.
"It's all that matters -- division champs," reliever Drew Storen said after the game. "That's what we wanted to do since Day 1 of Spring Training. You know what? We're going to win them when it matters."
Kyle Kendrick dizzied Nats hitters all night, working his way out of jams in the second, fifth and sixth innings before exiting after seven, then the Phillies bullpen escaped its own trouble in the eighth. Each time, the crowd was ready to break into a frenzy, but it never had the chance to cheer for its own team. Instead, the fans cheered for a different NL squad.
"That was the first time we won and got beat," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Braves, who chased the Nationals all summer, played some of their best baseball throughout September. The Pirates went 7-21 last month while Atlanta went 19-8, so the Nats figured they'd have to take care of business on their own. Instead, they got a division title wrapped in black-and-yellow paper.
"No, the baseball season is too long," outfielder Michael Morse said when asked if the loss to the Phillies takes anything away from the clincher. "It's a long season, and this is just one game. But we played our way to this moment right now."
Jayson Werth was a part of Phillies clubs that clinched division titles by beating the Nationals in 2007, 2008 and 2010. This championship wasn't clinched with a win over Philadelphia, but he said it is satisfying nonetheless.
"[I've] never done it like that, on a loss," Werth said. "Usually, it's gone the other way. But we'll take it however we can get it. It's been a long season, we've played a lot of good baseball. We had a tough schedule at the end of the year. Here we are. I'm very excited.