Teddy Roosevelt, one of the Washington Nationals racing president, celebrates after crossing the finish line winning the Presidents Race for the first time in the event’s seven year history at Nationals Park during a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Teddy wins! Teddy wins!
For the first time, the Teddy Roosevelt mascot won the Presidents Race in the middle of the fourth inning at Nationals Park — a pursuit that drew attention even from a White House spokesman and Sen. John McCain.
Teddy — Mr. Rough Rider — had never before won, losing more than 500 times since 2006, when the Washington Nationals baseball team began having races among 10-foot-tall foam renderings of Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln at home games.
The crowd cheered wildly Wednesday when Teddy triumphed in the last game of the 2012 regular season, which turned out to be a 5-1 victory for Washington over the Philadelphia Phillies. Teddy was helped when a green mascot wearing a Phillies jersey — a distant cousin of the Phillie Phanatic, perhaps? — knocked down the other three presidents.
The game's very next batter, Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, hit a homer leading off the bottom of the fourth for the home team's first run of the afternoon. The hitter after that, Michael Morse, doubled and eventually scored, too.
Asked whether he'd been inspired by the outcome of the mascot race, Zimmerman rolled his eyes.
"I am so glad Teddy won, so we can stop talking about Teddy. People get more excited for a mascot race than a game," Zimmerman said, before adding in a voice drenched with sarcasm: "Yes, I'm excited Teddy won. I'm ecstatic."
Teddy's triumph is the latest in a streak of unprecedented success for the Nationals.
They clinched their first NL East division title Monday and are bringing postseason Major League Baseball to the nation's capital for the first time since the Washington Senators lost in the 1933 World Series. Wednesday's victory was the Nationals' 98th of the season, the most in baseball.
The sport was missing from Washington for more than three decades until MLB moved the Montreal Expos to D.C. before the 2005 season. The next year, the club began holding the Presidents Race, modeled after mascot runs held at baseball games in Milwaukee (where sausages "compete") and Pittsburgh (where it's pierogies).
For some time, there was a growing campaign by some fans — and folks in high places — to allow Roosevelt's entry to finally finish first.
Aboard Air Force One during a trip to Florida last month, White House press secretary Jay Carney playfully called Teddy's losing streak "an outrage" and also noted he was "comfortable saying" that President Barack Obama agreed with the sentiment.
McCain, the Republican nominee for President in 2008, even took part in a video shown on the stadium's outfield scoreboard this week.
In the clip, the senator was seen giving Teddy a pep talk. Worked, apparently.
"I think I said last year that it's going to be tough to win without Teddy winning, but I guess he was waiting for us," said Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, who created quite a stir during a game in 2011 when he unsuccessfully attempted to block other mascots from racing so Roosevelt could end his losing skid then.
"I guess," Werth concluded Wednesday, "it marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter in Nats baseball."
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich