WASHINGTON (AP) - Manager Don Mattingly knows his Los Angeles Dodgers are letting their playoff hopes slip away, with nine losses in a span of 12 games.
He watched the Dodgers' opponent in a doubleheader Wednesday, the Washington Nationals, scratch out a victory the way he wishes his club would.
Nearing their first postseason appearance since arriving in Washington, the NL East-leading Nationals beat the Dodgers 3-1 in the opener, supporting Jordan Zimmermann's six innings of one-run pitching with two RBI groundouts and a sacrifice fly.
``They get two chances to get an easy run,' Mattingly noted, ``and they take them.'
His Dodgers did not, scoring only on Hanley Ramirez's RBI single in the third. Los Angeles wound up with nine hits, including four doubles, but went 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
``A lot of the same,' Mattingly said.
As music blared in the Nationals' clubhouse between games, manager Davey Johnson insisted it didn't matter at all that his team had earned its 90th win and lowered its magic number for securing a playoff berth to one.
``The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant,' Johnson said. ``That's the only thing, the only number, I'm concerned with.'
The Nationals' 90 victories are the most for a major league club in the nation's capital since 1933 - which also was the last time a D.C. team played beyond the regular season.
``We're really not thinking about that. Definitely, I'm not, anyway,' said Kurt Suzuki, who drove in Washington's first run with a fly ball in the second inning. ``We're thinking about winning the division.'
Pitching on seven days' rest because of Monday's scheduled day off and Tuesday's rainout, Zimmermann (11-8) kept putting runners on base and working around it. He allowed six hits, walked four and hit a batter.
``I was a little out of sync' in the early going Wednesday, Zimmermann said. ``The last three innings, I felt much better and was able to control everything.'
Four relievers followed him, combining to allow three hits across four shutout innings. Sean Burnett got out of a potentially troublesome spot in the seventh by striking out Adrian Gonzalez with runners on the corners, and Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for his 32nd save in 35 chances.
Another victory in the day's second game would allow the Nationals to assure themselves of no worse than a wild-card berth.
But everyone associated with the franchise, which moved from Montreal before the 2005 season, keeps saying the real goal is a division title - followed by more success in the postseason.
As general manager Mike Rizzo put it: ``Clinching a playoff berth is just one of the small steps in our grand plan.'
Two of Washington's runs in Game 1 came off Aaron Harang (9-10), who threw 4 2-3 innings and gave up seven hits.
``He was pretty good,' Mattingly said. ``He got some big outs to keep us in it.'
Washington went up 2-1 in the fifth. Teenager Bryce Harper hustled his way to a triple after lining a ball barely out of the second baseman's reach and to the wall in right-center.
Ryan Zimmerman, who got a cortisone shot before the game for a bothersome right shoulder, followed with a groundout to bring home Harper.
Harper's triple was his eighth, the most by any Nationals player in a season since the club moved to Washington.
Another RBI groundout, this one by pinch-hitter Tyler Moore, made it 3-1 in the sixth.
``It tells me,' Johnson said, ``we can score without hitting home runs.'
NOTES: Mattingly said LHP Clayton Kershaw was OK after getting hit in the dugout during the game by Ramirez's broken bat. Kershaw, out with a sore right hip, has started to play catch. Kershaw won't pitch in a game until he throws off a mound, which hasn't been scheduled yet. ... Dodgers LF Shane Victorino stole two bases to raise his season total to 37, tying a career high.
The Associated Press News Service
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