Double-A Harrisburg just needed a win on Monday -- the final day of the Eastern League season -- to clinch the top spot in the Western Division. As it turned out, it only needed one run to do the very same thing.
The Senators used five different pitchers to two-hit Richmond, 1-0, for the team's fourth division title and second in the last three seasons. The Nationals' Double-A affiliate finished the 2013 campaign with a 77-65 record, one game ahead of second-place Erie -- its opponent in the first round of the EL playoffs.
"Our goal the whole year was to win the division, so I'm just so happy for all of our guys, our players, our coaches, our staff that we were able to do this," said Harrisburg manager Matthew LeCroy. "Coming down to the last day like this, these guys gave everything they had, and we were lucky to score first and have the pitching hold it down."
Robert Gilliam led the way for the Sens pitching staff in Richmond on Monday, allowing two hits and four walks while striking out six over 4 2/3 scoreless innings. The 25-year-old right-hander, who finished the regular season 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA in 19 appearances, last pitched in relief on Aug. 27 but was thrust back into a starting role as Harrisburg tried to set up its postseason rotation.
The Senators grabbed the lead in the sixth after a two-out double by Carlos Rivero and an RBI single by Jeff Howell two pitches later. With five Richmond zeros already on the board, LeCroy admitted he liked his team's chances to put up four more.
"I was just hoping that once we got one across, we'd get some momentum," he said. "But our pitchers obviously had good stuff, and at a certain point, you're confident that they can get hold it down the rest of the way."
Richie Mirowski and Pat McCoy each tossed 1 1/3 innings in relief with Neil Holland getting the final two outs of the eighth. Tyler Herron notched his fifth save for the Senators with a perfect ninth.
But after the big win, the celebration from the victors was rather muted.
"We already did our celebrating when we clinched a playoff spot," said the Senators manager. "It was mostly just a bunch of hugs. It was nice that it was a goal of ours and good that we did it on such a hot day. But now, we're ready to get to Erie."
Of course, it should come as no shock that Harrisburg captured the Western Division crown -- with pomp or not -- on the strength of its pitching.
The Senators staff led the Eastern League with a collective 3.43 ERA and 1.24 WHIP this season. Three of the Nationals' top 10 prospects according to MLB.com (No. 3 A.J. Cole, No. 5 Nathan Karns, No. 7 Robbie Ray) are on the team now, while "graduated prospect" Taylor Jordan went 7-0 with a 0.83 ERA in nine appearances before getting the call to the big leagues in June.
"Pitching has been our big staple from the first day here," said LeCroy. "I'll tell you what -- the organization is pretty strong when it comes to that. Every guy they've brought up here has been lights out or close to it for us, and that's a testament to our pitching coordinators and everyone that's helped along the way. Plus, the guys who have been here all year long, like Karns and [Taylor Hill], they've had really good stuff, too.
"In my years in this game, you learn that if you have good pitching in the playoffs, you're ready to go, and I think we have that here."
Game 1 of the Eastern League semifinals is scheduled for Wednesday. As division winners, Harrisburg will travel to Erie for the first two games of the best-of-5 series with Games 3, 4 and 5 scheduled for Metro Bank Park. LeCroy said his rotation will be Cole, Hill and Karns for the first three games of that series. Eastern Division champion Binghamton takes on Trenton in the other semifinal.