Zuckerman: Nats Refuse To Lose Game 162

Zuckerman: Nats Refuse To Lose Game 162
October 3, 2010, 11:20 pm
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Sunday, October 3, 2010, 7:19 p.m.

By Mark Zuckerman

NEW YORK Earlier this weekend, someone sitting on the Nationals bench brought up the finale from the 2009 season: a marathon, 15-inning game in Atlanta that finally ended with a 2-1 Washington victory.

Justin Maxwell, who played all 15 innings that day, turned and glared at his teammate for even bringing that up.

I looked at them kind of funny, the outfielder said, thinking hopefully it doesnt happen again.

Well, it happened again. Not the full 15 innings, but everything else was the same. In Game 162 of the 2010 season, the Nationals needed 14 innings to beat the New York Mets by that familiar 2-1 score. Once again, Washingtons longest game of the year was its final game of the year.

It was funny because the guys were telling me its kind of becoming tradition here, said reliever Miguel Batista, who pitched for Seattle in 2009 but earned the save Sunday with a scoreless 14th. Last year they played like 20 innings against the Braves. My first question was: Did you guys win? They said yes. OK, because I dont want to stay this long and lose.

Indeed, as this game dragged on and on into the late afternoon, the thought of losing became even more objectionable. It may not have mattered in the standings the Nationals finished 69-93, 28 games back in the standings but no one wanted to head home for the winter with the sour taste in their mouths of a heartbreaking loss in the finale.

More than anything, its pride, said Joel Peralta, who pitched the 12th and 13th innings to earn the victory.

Peralta was one of five relievers who combined to shut the Mets out over the games final 7 13 innings, allowing only two hits and one unintentional walk along the way. It was only fitting that the strongest unit of the Nationals roster all season came up biggest in Game 162.

Despite having thrown 545 23 innings, most in the majors, the Nationals bullpen posted the leagues fourth-best ERA. This after ranking dead-last in the majors last season with a 5.04 bullpen ERA.

Seven members of the season-ending relief corps wound up with ERAs under 4.00, three of them with ERAs under 3.00. And that doesnt include Matt Capps, who had a 2.74 ERA and 26 saves before he was traded to Minnesota on July 29.

The Nationals needed every one of those scoreless innings out of their bullpen Sunday, because offensively they couldnt produce anything against the Mets. For 13 innings, their lone run came on a fifth-inning single by Alberto Gonzalez (only the light-hitting infielders fifth RBI in 114 games).

But stalwart starter Livan Hernandez churned out 6 23 innings of one-run ball himself to keep the game tied into the late innings, and then the quintet of Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten, Drew Storen, Peralta and Batista kept the game going until their teammates could push the go-ahead run across.

It finally happened in the top of the 14th, with the Mets forced to use exiled left-hander Oliver Perez (who had pitched in only two of their last 57 games) on the mound. Perez forced the winning run home without ever allowing the ball to be put into play. He hit Adam Kennedy with a pitch, then walked Roger Bernadina, Wil Nieves and Maxwell in succession, putting the Nationals on top 2-1.

Batista then closed it out in the bottom of the 14th for his second save of the year, rewarding his teammates for their perseverance at the end of a very long season.

You cant cash it in, Maxwell said. We play 162. Thats the schedule, and thats what we play. Any time you give away games, that doesnt take character at all. We were definitely trying to win the game. It just didnt work out in nine innings.

Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at zuckerman12@gmail.com.