By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 28, 2010; 11:40 PM
If this is the end for Adam Dunn in Washington, he never changed. Unbothered by the future that has everyone else preoccupied, Dunn concerns himself only with what he can control. And late Tuesday night, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the crowd at Nationals Park chanting his name and the count in his favor, he controlled the outcome of what could be his penultimate home game here.
Dunn unleashed his compact, uppercut swing on a fastball from Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jose Contreras. In the Washington Nationals' dugout, Dunn's teammates started pumping their fists and hopping onto the field before Dunn had left the batter's box, before the ball rocketed into the night, before the crowd's chants demanding that he remain a National stopped echoing though Nationals Park.
While Dunn rounded the bases, his teammates gathered at home plate to celebrate the walk-off home run that lifted the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the Phillies. He ran into the scrum and absorbed a beating from his teammates. Ryan Zimmerman pulled off Dunn's helmet and scampered away.
Almost instantly, the joy of the moment yielded to the potential finality of Tuesday. Dunn will play what might be his final home game as a member of the Nationals on Wednesday night. He said he doesn't know and therefore, typically unworried, he doesn't care. The notion had not even occurred to Dunn Tuesday evening before he was asked about it while lounging in a clubhouse recliner.
"I'm not going to go in tomorrow going, 'This is my last home game ever,' and cry, hand out Adam Dunn baseball cards," Dunn said. "I'm going to go into tomorrow like we have a chance to win the series against the National League East division champs."
Dunn may be the only person connected to the Nationals not focused on what comes next. Before the game, Manager Jim Riggleman guessed that Wednesday would not be Dunn's last home game. During the game, fans chanted "Sign Adam Dunn!" during all of his at-bats. After the game, they had allies in the Nationals' clubhouse.
"I think we've all said enough," Zimmerman said, before saying some more. "If they don't sign him, they better find someone good to replace him. I think all of us think that. I think, more important, all the fans think that.
"It's important to make the fans happy. They've been here through the hard times. At some point, we've got to do something to kind of reward them. If we go out in free agency, it's going to be hard to find somebody to replace him."
Those fans stood to their feet in the bottom of the ninth, when Dunn led off. The Nationals had produced two outs all night, but Jason Marquis - making the final start of his season - had danced around seven hits to allow one run in six innings. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen had recorded nine outs to keep the game knotted at one.
Dunn took two balls from Contreras. Ahead 2-0, Dunn did not actively think about hitting a home run. "But I want to make sure I get the barrel to it," he said. "Especially in that situation."
Contreras grooved a 94-mph pitch, low and inside, just where Dunn likes it. The ball soared vertically as if propelled by rocket fuel. "I started pumping my first as soon as he hit it," Storen said. The park erupted for Dunn and the crowd chanted again, the mark of a burgeoning relationship each side wants to continue.
"It's something that I'm very unfamiliar with," Dunn said. "I feel like I'm growing with these guys, as far as the fans. They've been great. They have every opportunity to boo us out of the stadium. They just come to watch baseball and to root on their home team. That's hard to find nowadays. It's not like they're waiting for you to make a mistake, like other places I've been."
Inside the Nationals' clubhouse, the Nationals feel the same as their fans. "Obviously," Marquis said, "we want him back."
The Nationals handed out shirts before the game celebrating Ryan Zimmerman with "Mr. Walk Off" printed on the chest and "Zimmerman" down the sleeve. One the shirts was slung over a chair by Dunn's locker, "Zimmerman" scratched out and "Donkey" - Dunn's nickname - in its place.
"Not having him around in the clubhouse is the thing I would miss the most," Storen said. "He just has fun every day, regardless. If we're having a rough streak, he's the guy that keeps it light."