Nats Again Come Back To Stymie The Mets

The Nationals' Ronnie Belliard is greeted by first base coach Jerry Morales after his three-run homer in the fifth inning gave Washington the lead for good.
The Nationals' Ronnie Belliard is greeted by first base coach Jerry Morales after his three-run homer in the fifth inning gave Washington the lead for good. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Avert your eyes, fans of the New York Mets, because what is happening on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill isn't fit for anyone who wanted the team from Flushing to saunter into the postseason, as they appeared ready to do all of a week ago. But that was before they were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies -- and long before they arrived at their new house of horrors, RFK Stadium.

The Washington Nationals will close the almost 46-year-old stadium to baseball this weekend, but before they do, they apparently want to cause misery to all those who enter. Last night, they were down four runs before they grabbed a bat, yet beat the Mets 9-8, the second night in a row in which they had come back from such a deficit and slung mud all over the race for the National League East title.

"Back-to-back nights, it's pretty incredible," Manager Manny Acta said, "considering we have a very tough time scoring five runs a game."

Given the opportunity to grab an envelope and a stamp in order to mail it in the last two weeks, the Nationals have declined, instead taking the countless openings provided by the Mets and coming through with more runs in consecutive games at RFK, 21, than they have in any two-game span since baseball returned here in 2005.

In the words of veteran Mets outfielder Moises Alou, "The Nationals looked like a very inspired team."

Which is precisely the opposite of the clench-jawed Mets. The Nationals' second comeback win in a row -- they trailed 4-0 before winning 12-4 on Monday -- was the Mets' fifth straight loss, a streak even a closed-door pregame meeting couldn't stop. The game-turning moment came on Ronnie Belliard's go-ahead three-run homer off Mets starter John Maine that capped an improbable five-run fifth, the latest blow to a pitching staff that appears in tatters.

But it wasn't over until closer Chad Cordero allowed a run in the ninth and put the tying run 90 feet from home plate before striking out pinch hitter Ruben Gotay, then twirling around in delight.

"My heart was pumping," Cordero said. "My mind was racing."

What, then, must be happening to the Mets? They pounced on Nationals rookie right-hander Joel Hanrahan for four runs in the first, and appeared ready to vanquish the demons that had visited them over the weekend and Monday night. But even with Hanrahan's putrid results -- he has now allowed 29 base runners in his last three starts, all while getting 29 outs, and his ERA is up to 6.45 -- the Nationals figured there was time.

"Like Manny said all year long, 'Play hard nine innings,' " Belliard said. "It's a long way."

For the two previous seasons, Acta served as the third base coach for the Mets. But he has dismissed the notion that he gains satisfaction from beating his old club. He even tossed aside the idea that he relishes playing spoiler.

"I'll tell you what I'm playing for: I don't want to finish last," Acta said.

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