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Washington capture 1st division title in spite of losing 2-0 to Philadelphia

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals captured their first Major League Baseball division title on Monday despite a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, thanks to a loss by the Atlanta Braves.

The Nationals, already assured the first playoff appearance by a team from the U.S. capital since 1933, secured the franchise's first division title in 31 seasons since the club was based in Montreal and named the Expos.

“The best is yet to come,” Washington's Kurt Suzuki said. “The last couple Writing by Jahmal Corner weeks have been tough. It has gotten us ready for the post-season. I'm excited and really looking forward to it.”

Atlanta lost 2-1 at Pittsburgh, falling to 93-67 for the season. That ensured the Braves could not match the Nationals, who clinched the NL East division crown at 96-64 with only two games remaining in the six-month season.

“It would have been nice to do it on a win, but we've put in six months of hard work and all of that paid off in the last few days,” Nationals slugger Adam LaRoche said. “Now we've got it done. Hopefully we will keep it going.”

Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco have clinched division titles, with Atlanta also qualified for the playoffs and reigning World Series champion St. Louis fighting the Los Angeles Dodgers for the last vacant spot.

St. Louis beat Cincinnati 4-2 to move within one more victory or one Dodger defeat of claiming the berth, but the host Dodgers edged San Francisco 3-2 on a run-scoring single by Elian Herrera in the ninth inning to stay in the hunt.

The Nationals, enjoying only the third winning MLB season by a Washington club since 1945, have a one-game lead over Cincinnati for home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs that begin later this week.

“This never gets old,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “This is just one more step. Now we can get ready for all the rest of the games we've got to play.”

Washington, which enjoyed only one World Series champion back in 1924, was without a major league club from 1971, when the Senators became the Texas Rangers, until 2005, when the Expos moved from Canada.

“It's unbelievable to enjoy this with these fans and this city,” rookie teen star Bryce Harper said. “It's a pretty great experience. We're going to try to win the World Series. I want to be able to kiss that trophy at the end.”

Philadelphia's Darin Ruf smacked a two-run triple in the second inning against Washington to produce the game's only runs, but the Nationals were watching the scoreboard to see how the Braves would fare at Pittsburgh.

Atlanta opened the scoring with a third-inning single that plated Jason Heyward, but the host Pirates took a 2-1 lead when Starling Marte, who scored on a ground out by Chase D'Arnaud in the third, homered in the fifth inning.

That remained the score to the finish, and when the final out was shown on the out-of-town scoreboard in Washington, the Nationals began to celebrate with many of their supporters who remained after the loss.

“It's only going to get better,” vowed 21-win Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

Other games on Monday:

National League

Pittsburgh 2, Atlanta 1

Miami 3, Ny Mets 2

Houston 3, Chicago Cubs 0

Milwaukee 5, San Diego 3

St Louis 4, Cincinnati 2

Colorado 7, Arizona 5 (13 Innings)

LA Dodgers 3, San Francisco 2

American League

Chi White Sox 11, Cleveland 0

Ny Yankees 10, Boston 2

Toronto 6, Minnesota 5 (10 Innings)

Tampa Bay 5, Baltimore 3

Detroit 6, Kansas City 3

Oakland 4, Texas 3

La Angels 8, Seattle 4

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Washington Nationals fans cheer as it is announced during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies that the Atlanta Braves lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates making the Nationals the National League East division champion in Washington, Monday. (AFP/AP)

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