Washington Nationals defeat New York Mets, 3-2

New York's José Reyes tosses his helmet and is ejected by home plate umpire Laz Diaz for arguing a called third strike.
New York's José Reyes tosses his helmet and is ejected by home plate umpire Laz Diaz for arguing a called third strike. (Kathy Willens/associated Press)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NEW YORK -- On Monday night, the Washington Nationals knew they were going to play their most consequential game in more than four years without Matt Capps and Tyler Clippard. The dominant duo at the back end of the bullpen, the league leaders in saves and wins, had been overworked. Even when two of the Nationals' most valuable players received a break, one thing didn't change.

"When we lace it up," reliever Brian Bruney said, "we're going to give you nine innings of hell."

While Clippard and Capps watched, Miguel Batista saved Washington's third straight victory, a 3-2 win over the New York Mets before 29,313 at Citi Field. The Nationals survived as much as they won, their pitchers allowing 12 hits and stranding 11 runners. But again, they cobbled together a victory, their league-leading eighth decided by one run.

The Nationals entered tied with the Mets for second place. After Iván Rodríguez went 4 for 4, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Kennedy hit back-to-back solo home runs and Nationals pitchers danced around constant danger, Washington moved to four games above .500 for the first time since Sept. 17, 2005.

"For a lot of guys on this team, it's the only Washington Nationals they've ever known," General Manager Mike Rizzo said before the game. "I think the significance of it is that this isn't 2008 or 2009 anymore. This is 2010. Phrase it whatever you want, new regime or whatever. Our plan was to expect to win, prepare to win and perform to win. That's where we're at."

Their latest may have been the most improbable. A 39-year-old journeyman closing out the franchise's most significant game in more than four years? Why not? Their 38-year-old catcher had already raised his batting average to .393.

Manager Jim Riggleman had been worried for weeks about overusing Capps and Clippard, who have appeared in 17 and 16 games, respectively. Even in games he didn't pitch last week, Capps had warmed up in all of them. The rest of the bullpen, which had often faltered this year, understood they would be leaned on Monday.

"There was nothing said down there," Tyler Walker said. "There was no rallying cry. We knew what was going to go on."

In the middle of the seventh inning, bullpen coach Jim Lett ambled over to Batista and told him, "You should have the ninth."

"I'm ready," Batista said. "That's what I'm here for. I'm here to pitch."

Batista had saved 39 games in his 16-year career, 35 of them in 2005. "You never get used to that feeling," Batista said. "You get a different rush when you go out there with the game on the line. When you go to close, it's do or die."

Batista inherited a two-run lead, then allowed a one-out home run to Angel Pagan, slicing the lead to one. He struck out Luis Castillo for the second out, but then surrendered a single to Alex Cora. Up came Jason Bay, the potential winning run, but Batista forced him to check his swing feebly for strike three.

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