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Nationals Rally in the Bottom of the Ninth to Defeat the Dodgers and Avoid Loss No. 100

Welcomed by Cristian Guzm?n, Justin Maxwell crosses home plate with the winning run against the Dodgers. The Nationals rallied after being no-hit until the sixth, then surrendering a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth.
Welcomed by Cristian Guzm?n, Justin Maxwell crosses home plate with the winning run against the Dodgers. The Nationals rallied after being no-hit until the sixth, then surrendering a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chances are, the Washington Nationals won't transform henceforth into a 99-loss juggernaut, finishing their season with 12 consecutive wins, avoiding the indignity of triple digits. One more loss, and they've got 100 of them. Perhaps it's inevitable. Perhaps it's been inevitable since April.

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But if the Nationals somehow go crazy, not losing again until 2010, it'll be no less improbable than Wednesday night's 5-4 victory over Los Angeles -- a celebration of microscopic odds, turned right.

The Nationals, down 3-0, were under the no-hit spell of Chad Billingsley until the sixth inning. Their relievers in a tie game walked leadoff men in the seventh and eighth innings, allowing no runs. Their go-ahead run in the top of the eighth came only when the Dodgers botched a routine fly ball and an inning-ending double play. They entered the bottom of the ninth tied only because relievers Sean Burnett and Sa?l Rivera retired Los Angeles's 3-4-5 hitters with the bases loaded and no outs.

As interim manager Jim Riggleman said, "You're not going to bet those odds in Vegas."

Even in a game where the odds made no sense, Washington played the percentages in the bottom of the ninth, using a strategy based on one number: 1.5 seconds. That's the amount of time Los Angeles reliever James McDonald, pitching in a 4-4 tie, needed to deliver the ball.

After a Justin Maxwell leadoff single, first base coach Marquis Grissom mentioned to Maxwell the righty's slow delivery. By the time Maxwell reached second, advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Alberto Gonz?lez, he knew he'd steal third. First pitch to Jorge Padilla, he was off.

McDonald threw a 78 mph breaking pitch.

Maxwell zipped into third, head-first.

"Awesome," Pete Orr called the steal.

"A big play," Ryan Zimmerman said. "You've got to give him credit for that."

After Padilla walked, Orr, pinch hitting, came up and whacked a fly ball to right fielder Andre Ethier. It didn't even matter that Ethier dropped the ball. Maxwell danced home, and the Nationals had the win -- their 12th final at-bat victory of the year.

"It just shows a lot about this team," Maxwell said. "We really have nothing to play for in the standings, but we're all playing hard for our manager."


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