Patterson Can't Stop the Slide

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005

Up went the red fielding glove off John Patterson's left hand, sailing high above his head, a red flare of frustration burning in the air of another Nationals defeat. This is a rare sight in major league baseball, a player hurling his mitt in the sky, and it immediately brought a swift and strong lecture from umpire Tim McClelland, who assumed Patterson was whining about a safe call on a Florida Marlins stolen base.

But Patterson never listened, never heeded the words of the umpire bellowing in his face. They were white noise in the misery that was already churning in his head.

Long after the Nationals had dropped their third straight last night to the Marlins, 8-4, Patterson would say it was just frustration that led to his gesture. Frustration over a defeat that seemed to almost kill the postseason dream once and for all. Frustration over the sinus infection he woke up with on Wednesday night, that lingered all day yesterday, leaving him feeling woozy and sucking the strength from his right arm.

Frustration with all the little dribbling ground balls that kept rolling just out of his teammates' reach.

Frustration with the pitch that Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett slammed over the left field fence for a home run to lead off the fifth.

"It was a combination of everything," he said. "When you're making pitches and all the balls are finding holes, and when you go through everything else that's going on around here, you saw frustration tonight."

Which is why he tossed his red glove into the air. And why McClelland came running over from third base, jabbing a finger in Patterson's face and the pitcher looked so blankly at the umpire in return.

"I shouldn't have done it," he said before offering a string of apologies -- to his teammates, the umpires, the fans.

But he added, "I was frustrated."

When asked what he meant by "everything else that's going on around here," he shook his head. "Don't get into that," he said.

Still, it seems obvious that the mood has changed significantly around the Nationals' clubhouse these days. The pregame music went last week in Atlanta, turning the happy room into an afternoon tomb. But the smiles left this team long before that. The joy that seemed to bounce off the walls with the winning in May and June, was replaced with somber mumbles and shuffled steps in July and August.

Patterson was one of the players most dismayed by the change in the temperature. Maybe, when he gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on a night he probably shouldn't have been pitching at all, the frustration of his season -- already damaged by his team's inability to score when he pitches -- had gotten to him.

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