Nationals manager Davey Johnson fielded an unconventional lineup for the penultimate game of the regular season against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night.
His shortstop, Mark DeRosa, hadn't played a game at the position since 2008. His catcher, Sandy Leon, appeared in just 12 games in 2012. His starting pitcher, Tom Gorzelanny, spent the season as the long relief man in the bullpen and was limited to just 65 pitches. Only two regular starters began the game at all.
That's what happens the day after a club clinches a division title. But Johnson is so confident in his reserves this season that he didn't see resting his starters as conceding anything in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They proved it in a 4-2 victory over the Phillies at Nationals Park.
"I'm rewarding the guys that have been grinding through a tough schedule," Johnson said before the game. "Given a little setback, gather your thoughts and gear back up [for Wednesday]. But this lineup I got out there, a lot of times these guys have been regulars."
Washington (97-64) took one step closer to earning the top seed in the National League. Roger Bernadina singled home the tying run in the fourth inning. Adam LaRoche homered in the sixth and Steve Lombardozzi, playing for starting second baseman Danny Espinosa, singled home a run later that inning to put Washington up 3-1.
"The Goon Squad comes through again," DeRosa said, using the bench's collective nickname. "But we got some guys that are capable of playing every day."
Tyler Clippard, who had looked better in his two recent relief appearances, took a step back when Darin Ruf homered off him to lead off the eighth inning.
Gorzelanny hadn't started a game since spring training but was called upon because the Nats wanted to rest scheduled starter Gio Gonzalez for Game 1 of the National League Division Series. A teammate jokingly put up a sign on his locker before the contest that said "Game #161 is my game".
But he acquitted himself well in limited duty. Gorzelanny, who had pitched just once since Sept. ?15, lasted 3 2Ú3 innings and gave up one earned run on four hits and two walks. He struck out five batters. Ruf led off the fourth with a homer. He later would do so to Clippard, too. But Washington added an insurance run in the eighth when Lombardozzi drove in Bernadina with a sacrifice fly to short center, and closer Drew Storen shut the door in the ninth.
Because the Cincinnati Reds rallied to win their game in St. Louis, they remain tied with the Nats for the best record in the league. If Washington wins its finale on Wednesday against the Phillies it will clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason and open against the N.L. wild-card game winner on Sunday in the NLDS. If it loses to Philadelphia and the Reds beat the Cardinals again then the Nats are the No. 2 seed and will travel to San Francisco to play on Saturday.
"We've been talking about that. I think we're 50-50 on it," LaRoche said of the benefits of being No. 1 or No. 2. "I don't know necessarily the advantage. We're going to play to win [Wednesday] and either way we're not in a bad spot so I'd say we're fine, whatever happens."