By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
NEW YORK, Sept. 25 -- With six runs already in, the overwhelming emotion had to be to just make it stop, or at least make it slow down, because things were moving so fast and the lead was evaporating and the Shea Stadium crowd was hollering in the ninth. The Washington Nationals were in the process of allowing the New York Mets to scrape themselves up from the bottom of the bay and pull out a season-saving victory. Austin Kearns stood in right field watching it unfold.
"Let's just get an out," he said he thought to himself. "I don't care how it happens. If somebody falls down and we can tag them or something, let's just get an out -- and get out of here."
The Nationals, somehow, did that. The score on the scroll at the bottom of the television will say Nationals 10, Mets 9, but it won't begin to describe the harrowing nature of what happened Tuesday night at Shea -- where the Mets remained in first place by two games over Philadelphia, and the Nationals matched their victory total from a year ago with No. 71.
"It's a huge accomplishment," said reliever Jon Rauch, forced to get the final two outs, "for the simple fact that you look at the players that we had last year and the players we don't have this year."
Save that for a bit. The events of the single evening were important, too, because they included three homers by Washington off Mets left-hander Tom Glavine -- the first time he had allowed that many bombs in any of his 33 starts this season. The Nationals used 16 hits to build a 10-3 lead going into the ninth. All that remained was some tidying up.
Then came the time for antacid. Reliever Jesus Colome allowed a three-run homer to Mets shortstop Jose Reyes -- his second of the night -- to pull the Mets within four. That necessitated the use of closer Chad Cordero, the last man in a crowd of 49,244 that figured he'd find work Tuesday. Cordero couldn't retire any of the three men he faced, and the last one -- the indefatigable Moises Alou -- laced a three-run double. Alou's fourth hit of the night brought the Mets within 10-9.
Double that dose of Tums. Manager Manny Acta had to call on setup man Jon Rauch to pin it down. Rauch responded by striking out Carlos Delgado -- a pitch on which pinch runner Endy Chavez stole third. Ultimately, that mattered not, because Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca finally lofted a ball to Kearns in right. The Nationals had bound themselves in chains and ropes and tossed themselves to the depths of the sea, but somehow managed to extract themselves.
"I almost laughed," said Kearns, whose three-run homer off Glavine started a wild night in the first, "because it was like: 'Wow. Let's get out of here.' "
But before the Nationals leave Queens -- they wrap up their series Wednesday night -- consider what they have accomplished here.
The victory over the Mets was the Nationals' second in two nights at Shea and their fourth in five games against New York over the past eight days. All of that has prevented the Mets -- in first place alone every day since May 16 -- from wrapping up a second consecutive National League East title, one New York seems unwilling or unable to seize.
Yet even with all of the emotion the Nationals have played with over the past week -- there were more pumped fists Tuesday than in some weeks during the grind of the summer -- there are other factors at work than just ruining the Mets' season.
"The spoiler thing doesn't do it for us," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who started a brilliant inning-ending double play in the fifth. He brought up the win total, something Acta mentioned in the clubhouse when the final out was mercifully secured. To review, a short list of players who were here in 2006 -- when the Nationals went 71-91 -- who aren't now: Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, not to mention Nick Johnson, lost for the season with a broken leg.
"That's important to us," Zimmerman continued. "We want to show people we've gotten better with what [management] did. They dumped a lot of people and got rid of a lot of veteran players and let us young guys come up and play. We want to show that we have improved and we have gotten better so that everyone can kind of trust this plan that they're talking about."
The plan, right now, is also to avoid finishing last, and Rauch's ability to get those final two outs gave the Nationals a 3 1/2 -game cushion over fifth-place Florida. Acta said he has heard his players discussing their own "magic number" to clinch fourth.
"We're trying to do our own thing," Acta said.
Tuesday night, their own thing included homers by Kearns, veteran reserve Tony Batista and rookie Justin Maxwell. Their own thing included flirting with a calamitous meltdown, yet surviving. And if a tangential development happens to be that the Mets are crushed, so be it. The idea: get wins however they can, and get out of here.