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Thursday's Late Game

Nats Lose 100th Game of Season

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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

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Two years in a row now, the Nationals have lost at least 100 games, redefining the old maxim regarding Washington's place in war, peace and the baseball standings.

With their latest loss, a 7-6 defeat against the Dodgers on Thursday night, the Nationals fell to 52-100, a mark nearly as ugly as the game itself. Eleven pitches into the night, they trailed 4-0. Their starter was pulled after three innings. This being a cheap knockoff version of clean baseball, even when the Nationals battled back to tie, everything promptly unraveled at the worst possible moment.

Not many teams manage to lose 100 or more games in back-to-back seasons. In the last 25 years, before Thursday, only the Tigers, Rays and Royals had done it. Months ago, conventional wisdom suggested that this year's Washington team couldn't possibly be worse than the 2008 Nationals (59-102). But the 2009 Nationals defeated almost nobody, except conventional wisdom. They showed the first signs of 100-loss potential even in those brief, beautiful moments as a zero-loss team. They started the season with a two-error, blowout defeat. They were 0-7, then 1-10, then 14-36.

For the players and the coaching staff, the 100th loss of their season piqued no special curiosity. "If it's 99 or 101 or 104 or 96, you know, none of that is good," interim manager Jim Riggleman said.

The 100th loss, though, has always been baseball's formal certificate for futility, accompanied even by a fitting visual element -- those gaping zeroes, through which even Daniel Cabrera could aim his fastball. With their 100th loss, the 2009 Nationals joined a fraternity that includes, since 1903, 134 other teams. Among them: the 1905 Boston Beaneaters (51-103), the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the 1969 Montreal Expos (52-110) and 10 previous Washington-based teams, including the 1904 Senators (38-113).

That 1904 team, with three 20-game losers, had pitching problems. The 2009 team also has pitching problems. In the eighth inning of a tie game on Thursday, reliever Ron Villone threw a belt-high fastball to Rafael Furcal, who pounded it one row beyond the fence in right-center for a solo homer. Los Angeles grabbed a 7-6 lead, as well as the final run of a long night.

"That pitch was a little up, and he was able to drive it," Villone said.

The Nationals, facing all-star reliever George Sherrill, almost tied it in the bottom of the eighth, but on a hard two-out Ian Desmond single to right field, Willie Harris -- trying to score from second base -- was thrown out on a clear-cut play at home.

Much earlier in the evening, a perfect combination of misfiring pitchers and prolonged at-bats helped this game move at about the pace of highway road construction. Its only brisk element, actually, was the departure of Washington starter J.D. Martin, who gave up three hits and one run within his first 10 pitches, prompting a mound visit from Steve McCatty, the pitching coach. McCatty left the mound, and Martin's next pitch -- No. 11 of the night -- left the yard. Matt Kemp trotted around the bases, and Los Angeles had a 4-0 lead.

"That first inning, right out of the shoot, everything was up," Martin said. "And especially with a lineup like that, you can't get away with that stuff."

On this night, at least, the Nationals showed some fight. They cut the gap with a three-run bottom of the second against Los Angeles's Vicente Padilla, helped by an Elijah Dukes double, an Alberto Gonz?lez single just over second base and a Jamie Burke sacrifice fly.

They tied the game in the sixth with two more runs, capitalizing on a fielding miscue by second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Fielding a two-out grounder from Cristian Guzm?n, Belliard looked at first base -- the in-the-hole-grounder had drawn first baseman James Loney off the bag -- and saw nobody. Still, he sidearmed a throw, hoping Loney could scramble back or pitcher Ronald Belisario could cover. Neither arrived in time, and Belliard's throw skipped away, allowing Dukes to score. The next batter, Harris, flicked an RBI single to left field, tying the game at 6.

"To go through what they've gone through this season to just really get after it and try to win the ballgame when you're down, I think -- with the exception of a ballgame or two -- I think we have been outstanding in terms of effort and attitude," Riggleman said later. "It's a beautiful situation; it's got the potential to be a beautiful situation, I should say."

So 2010 should be better, right?

"I think the steppingstones, we're walking on those," Jason Bergmann said.

"We've got a chance to be really good," Mike MacDougal said. "If you lose 100 games, you have to make a jump the next year, right?"

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