WASHINGTON (AP) — A smile crept across Adam LaRoche's face when he rounded the bases after his career-best 33rd homer gave him an even 100 RBIs.
After a high-five from manager Davey Johnson and a hug from Jayson Werth, LaRoche acknowledged the crowd's ovation with a tip of his red batting helmet during Washington's 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night, 24 hours after the Nationals clinched the NL East title.
"Feels good," LaRoche said, "to have a little celebration two nights in a row."
This one was more muted, of course, than all the alcohol-spraying and mirth-making of Monday. Asked how he'll mark his individual achievement, LaRoche replied: "I don't know. I'm still recovering from last night. I'll have to take it easy tonight."
As he spoke, the televisions in the Nationals Park home clubhouse were tuned to the game between the Yankees and Red Sox — not Cincinnati's 3-1 victory over the Cardinals, which was relevant to Washington's postseason plans. The Nationals and Reds are tied for the best record in the majors (97-64) heading into Wednesday's regular-season finales, with the top seed in the NL playoffs on the line, something the Nationals insist they aren't all that worried about.
Washington can clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a victory in Game 162 or a loss by the Reds.
"I don't know how it's that important," Johnson said. "You've got to beat the teams you play."
On an evening when a thick fog was hanging over the stadium, Johnson decided most of his main guys deserved a rest. Indeed, LaRoche was Washington's only everyday player who stayed in for more than five innings — and he led off the sixth by driving the second pitch thrown by reliever Josh Lindblom (3-5) into the home bullpen in right field. Several Nationals relievers raised their fists as the ball cleared the wall.
Last season was rough as could be for LaRoche. Trying to play despite a torn labrum in his left shoulder, he hit .172 with three homers in 43 games, then finally agreed to have surgery.
What a turnaround: In 2012, LaRoche tied his career-best RBI total and joined Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn — who each did it twice — as the only Nationals players to reach 100 in that category. He heard some "MVP!" chants from fans in the seventh inning.
"It's unfortunate he got hurt last year, for really the first time in his career. But he's a terrific player and a terrific teammate, and I'm so happy for him," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "Now we're looking for him to get hot and carry us like he did quite often in the first half."