By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010; D01
The Washington Nationals, a franchise defined for some time by its failures, experienced a new kind of disappointment Saturday afternoon. Sure, their 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles stung because of the circumstances -- 13 innings, 260 minutes, 403 pitches, countless squandered chances.
But the Nationals, for once, didn't hurt because they almost won. They hurt because they thought they would win.
"The way we feel in here, it's aggravating," right fielder Willie Harris said. "We expect to win. We're not in rebuild mode in our mind. We expect to win now."
The Nationals will regret much about their crushing loss to the Dodgers, but perhaps nothing as much as the waning, deflating moments. Washington squandered chances for a galvanizing victory across more than four hours of baseball, and, given one more opportunity at the very end of it, the Nationals frittered that away, too. They left 15 runners on base, including two in the final inning after placing men on second and third with one out.
"It was a great game," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's just too bad to have to come up short."
The Dodgers stunned the Nationals in the 13th inning when Rafael Furcal scored the game-winning run on Russell Martin's single off Miguel Batista, who before Furcal singled had retired eight consecutive batters. The run sent some of the 18,039 at Nationals Park into chants supporting the Dodgers, and most everyone else booed to shout them down.
The Nationals answered on the field, too. With one out, Iván Rodríguez pinch-hit and singled to center. Nyjer Morgan followed by rocketing a double to left. Rodríguez nearly circled third, but third base coach Pat Listach held him up -- "a good decision," Riggleman said.
With Rodríguez on third, the middle of the Dodgers infield played back and the corners came in. He would run on a grounder up the middle, stay on one to the corners. But when Ian Desmond dribbled a grounder to third base, Rodríguez's instincts told him to bolt for home.
Casey Blake fired to the plate. Rodríguez slid, Martin applied the tag. Rodríguez popped up and signaled safe; home plate umpire Brian O'Nora disagreed.
"It was a good gamble," Riggleman said. "He's almost safe as it was. If the throw is just a hair off, he is going to be safe."
Cristian Guzmán flied out to end it, another rally fizzled. All game long, the Nationals had blown such opportunities. In the third inning, Justin Maxwell struck out with two down and the bases loaded. In the seventh, Desmond reached third base with no outs and still couldn't score the run that would have tied the game. But the sixth inning brought the play the Nationals would most regret.
With starting pitcher Craig Stammen on first and two outs, Morgan crunched a line drive over left fielder Xavier Paul's head. As Listach windmilled Stammen home, Morgan chugged for a triple. By rounding second with abandon, Morgan had made a mistake.
"They throw the ball home, he walks into third," Listach said. "They throw the ball to third, he's got to stop, let [Stammen] cross the plate first."
Stammen slowed and high-fived on-deck batter Desmond at the plate, and Morgan slid into third base, the relay throw having beaten him. Morgan was called out before Stammen touched home plate, and so first base umpire Phil Cuzzi, who had rotated to the plate, waved off Stammen's run. Morgan had made the third out at third base and nullified the go-ahead run.
"I was being aggressive, but not intelligent," Morgan said. "I should have stopped, but I was locked in. I had tunnel vision, man, not understanding the situation a little bit."
Said Riggleman: "If it was a mistake, it was a mistake of aggression. We can live with that."
That one play could have made the difference, but the loss canceled out some strong performances. Matt Capps pitched a scoreless ninth and 10th. Stammen allowed three runs in seven innings and tied the game at two in the sixth with his single. Harris robbed the Dodgers of two doubles -- at least -- in extra innings by throwing his body against the wall and on the turf. Morgan went 3 for 7 with two doubles and drove in the run that sent the game into extra innings.
"That game today shows you who we are," Harris said. "We're never going to give up. We're right there. We had a chance. That's really all you ask for is a chance. We had our opportunity. We just couldn't come through."