Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Phillies fans serenade their team during tonight's division-clinching win.
As if the sight of a visiting team celebrating in the middle of the diamond wasn't tough enough to stomach, throw in several thousand of their fans, who dominated the ballpark all night to the point this felt like anything but a home game for the Nationals.
"Damn, it was a lot louder at our place than it was at their place when we go there," Nyjer Morgan said. "It felt like it was a home game for the Phillies."
"It was kind of embarrassing," Ian Desmond added. "Everyone in the stadium is clapping against you, and you're at home. It's not really where you want to be."
No, nothing about what transpired on South Capitol Street should be acceptable to the Nationals or their fans. The scene around this 8-0 thumping at the hands of the Phillies was both embarrassing and yet totally predictable.
What do you get when you take a 67-win home team, add a 94-win visiting team with a rabid fan base located only two hours up the interstate, put a division title on the line, stick a 20-game winner on the mound and throw in the threat of rain for good measure? You get this: A crowd of probably 7,500, at least three-quarters (maybe even 90 percent) of them wearing Phillies gear, chanting in unison things like "This is our house!" as the home team sits there helpless to stop it.
"That's just the way it is," John Lannan said. "The Philly fans are die-hard. They came down here. That's how it always is. Hopefully it changes over the next couple years."
There's only one way to ensure that changes, John. Start winning.
You can talk about how obnoxious Philly fans are. You can talk about the manner in which the Nationals' front office helped encourage nights like this by all but busing in thousands of out-of-towners every time they play here. You can even talk about local baseball fans not caring enough to show up in an attempt to drown out the invaders. But those are all peripheral factors to the real issue.
You want to draw your own fans and keep visitors out? Start winning.
The Phillies just won their fourth straight NL East title. The Nationals are about to wrap up their third straight last-place finish. Over the last four years, the Nats have finished 16, 32 1/2, 34 and now 27 games behind Philadelphia (with five games still to go this season). Head-to-head over that time, the Nats are 20-50 against the Phillies.
Technically speaking, these two franchises compete in the same division. Realistically, they're a universe apart.
"The Phillies are winning 90-plus and we're losing 90-plus," Jim Riggleman. "There's a gap there we've got to close."
This was the third time in four years the Phillies have clinched against the Nationals. In 2007 and 2008 at Citizens Bank Park, plenty of guys sat in their dugout, watched the celebration and talked about how they were motivated to try to do the same.
There wasn't much admiration for the opposition tonight, only frustration from a group of players that's sick of being on this end of these things.
"It's tough watching these guys," Collin Balester said. "You want to play for that. We have a good enough team to do that. ... It also stings a little bit to watch those guys do it, especially on your field. It's cliched to say the same thing over and over, year in and year out, to have the same results. But we really are working hard, and I think we have the team for the future."
The skeptics will say that future isn't on the immediate horizon. It's difficult to imagine any scenario in 2011 -- with Stephen Strasburg recovering from Tommy John surgery -- that results in the Nationals clinching anything of consequence.
But it's not going to do the Nats any good to proceed into next season as though it's a lost cause before it begins. They can't just push the timeline for success back because of Strasburg's injury. They have to approach their offseason roster changes as though Strasburg is going to be a part of the 2011 team.
No, it probably won't result in a title of any kind. It may not even result in 81 wins. But it will put this franchise in better position a year from now (once Strasburg is back) to make that leap, rather than delaying it even farther down the road.
After witnessing what they saw tonight on their home field, it's not enough for the Nationals to simply say they were embarrassed. It's time for them to do something to prevent it from happening again.