"In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil."
- Rose G. Kingsley, "The Autumn Garden," 1905
Davey Johnson has been a pretty good gardener, as Peter Sellers once declared in the film "Being There."
The Washington Nationals manager has put in months of thought and care and toil to raise the 2012 Nationals team to first place in the National League East going into September and now hopes to reap the rewards with the crowning glory of the year -- postseason play, an NL pennant and perhaps a World Series championship.
But it takes special care in September -- the final weeks of a baseball season, though this year bleeds into October for three days -- to achieve that crowning glory.
September is the strangest, most unpredictable month of a baseball season. It's no longer a 162-game marathon. Now it is a sprint to the finish line, and along the way are all sorts of hurdles.
You have young, fresh players you will see on other teams for the first time -- perhaps seeing their first major league action -- looking to make a lasting impression.
You have once-proud teams -- former World Series champions -- determined not to embarrass themselves in the closing weeks.
And you have embattled teams -- like some of the past Nationals squads -- who are energized at playing the role of spoiler.
It requires a good gardener. So how is Johnson's record in past Septembers?
As you might expect, it's pretty good.
Johnson's overall mark managing in 13 major league Septembers is 195-112 with the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and last year after he took over for the Nationals midseason.
He has brought it home in playoff seasons with the Mets, leading them to a 16-11 record in 1986 and his best September in 1988 when New York had a 20-6 mark. And while the 1996 Orioles battled for a wild-card spot at the end of the season, Johnson's squad had a 16-11 September record.
Johnson limped into the 1995 postseason with the Reds, compiling a 12-16 record in September. And the 1997 Orioles, who led the American League East wire-to-wire, had a losing September, going 13-16.
Johnson's worst month of September? When he took over the Reds from Tony Perez one-third of the way through the 1993 season. His team had a 6-19 record in September 1993 but came back with winning seasons in both 1994 and 1995.
Here's what makes this September particularly challenging for Johnson. He never had to go to Dwight Gooden, David Wells or Mike Mussina and tell them they were done pitching in September. He made it clear again Thursday at Nationals Park that he will be doing just that with the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.
Last September, Johnson managed the Nationals to a 17-10 mark. If he can do the same thing this year, he may achieve his crowning glory.