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WASHINGTON -- One of the more poignant moments of the Washington Nationals' division-clinching celebration Sunday evening was the presence in a wheelchair of Mark Lerner, the principal owner of the team.
Lerner had his left leg amputated this summer due to cancer and he began returning to games at Nationals Park just a few weeks ago.
A family member wheeled him onto the field and then into the Washington clubhouse as the Nationals celebrated their fourth National League East title in six years under the Lerner family. But this was the first title that Washington was able to celebrate after winning that day at home.
Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who joined the team before the 2012 season, called Lerner "the heart of the franchise" as champagne was sprayed in the Nationals clubhouse. The left-hander will be on mound Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves.
"I can't describe this excitement right now" Gonzalez said during the celebration.
Said closer Sean Doolittle, acquired from the Oakland A's in July, said: "I wouldn't mind doing this three more times."
Gonzalez, a Miami-area native, is 14-6 with a 2.50 ERA in 28 starts and will take the mound against Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran (10-11, 4.77), who has beaten the Nationals twice this year.
Gonzalez is 4-10 with a 5.09 ERA in 19 starts against the Braves and has not beaten them in his last six starts. This year he is third in the league in ERA after that mark went up each of the previous four seasons, reaching 4.57 in 2016.
Freddie Freeman (.308 against Gonzalez), Matt Kemp (.333) and Dansby Swanson (.300) all have two homers against Gonzalez.
Teheran is 5-4 with a 4.12 ERA against Washington in 17 games, all starts. He won't have to deal with injured right fielder Bryce Harper, who is 17-for-37 (.459) with seven homers against Teheran. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton, who could see action, has two homers against Teheran.
Lane Adams helped the Nationals by hitting the game-winning homer in the 11th inning Sunday to give Atlanta a 10-8 win over the Miami Marlins. That clinched the East title for Nationals, who are a season-best 33 games over .500 and 20 games ahead of the Marlins.
"We seem to like coming on late, which isn't a bad thing," said Braves catcher Tyler Flowers, who scored on the Adams homer. "It would be nice if we could do more early, but coming on late is probably a little tougher with the arms in bullpens now days."
Washington manager Dusty Baker is now the seventh manager to take his team to the postseason nine times. The six other managers who have done that are in the Hall of Fame: Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Casey Stengel, John McGraw and Joe McCarthy.
"This is great. This is why I came here," Baker said. "I knew I had a good team when I came here."
The Nationals also are within striking distance of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the National League.
Once considered impossible, Washington could end up with the best record in the National League. And if they finish at least 12-7, the Nationals, who won the East last year, will win 100 games for the first time.
Not bad for an organization that lost 102 games in 2008 and 103 the following year. But Washington is 0-3 in the first round of the playoffs since 2012.
Near the celebration was Washington center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who began the year as a reserve but has blossomed as a starter after an April injury to Adam Eaton.
"It has been a special season for us," said Taylor, who is hitting .274 with 16 homers. "Any role is important. It is all about the team."