Washington Nationals lose to New York Mets, 7-2

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 11:45 PM

NEW YORK - There is one game left in their season, and the Washington Nationals are going quietly. Maybe that's what happens after Roy Halladay tears through your lineup and, like a hurricane, leaves destruction in his wake. Maybe that's what happens when batters start thinking about the season's finish line instead of the task at hand. Maybe that's what happens when your best hitters watch.

Pick your reason. After their latest offensive whimper Saturday in a 7-2 loss to the New York Mets, the Nationals, whatever the cause, have lost three straight games and five of six and eliminated their chance to win 70 games. Their shot at 70 vanished Saturday after Cuban right-hander Yunesky Maya made his best start yet and when Tyler Clippard yielded a tiebreaking, three-run home run to David Wright in the seventh inning. Clippard had blown his second straight lead by allowing a home run, but the real culprits were the ones holding bats.

The Nationals have fallen victim to several offensive downswings this season, and they may have saved their worst for last. They have scored six runs on 17 hits in the five-game stretch that began when Halladay came within two singles of a perfect game on Monday. Roy Oswalt pitched the next night, and it is one thing to be shut down by him. It is another to be overwhelmed, as the Nationals have, by the likes of Joe Blanton, Pat Misch and Raul Valdes.

"We've been hot and cold all year," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "And we're cold. We've seen great things, and we've seen times where we're just doing nothing."

The Nationals have played without Josh Willingham, their No. 5 hitter when everyone was healthy, since mid-August. They have played without Ryan Zimmerman, their best hitter and one of the best in the National League, for nine games. On Saturday, Adam Dunn sat out at the start without a sore hamstring.

Aside from those three, Michael Morse is the only Nationals hitter with an OPS+ over 100, which means, gauging by one hitter, the Nationals have fielded lineups that feature either seven or eight below-league-average hitters. While Morse - who drilled his 15th home run Saturday before leaving with a tight hamstring - has ably replaced Willingham, the thought of Alberto Gonzalez replacing Zimmerman is laughable.

"You'd like to say no," it doesn't have an effect, shortstop Ian Desmond said. But "it's pretty much inevitable losing some of your horses like that."

At least the Nationals generated scoring chances Saturday. Wilson Ramos went 3 for 5 with two doubles and a game-tying RBI on a single he smoked off third base in the seventh inning. They managed six hits but drew two walks and were twice hit by pitches. All those base runners, though, only served to provide further frustration. The Nationals stranded 13 runners on base and went 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.

Perhaps Maya believes pitching with a zero on the scoreboard is just how things work in the major leagues. The Nationals scored one run while he was on the mound in his five starts, including zero Saturday; Morse's homer came in the sixth.

His dearth of support did not keep Maya from submitting his most encouraging start. He allowed two runs in six innings on six hits and a walk. He finished his season without a win and a 5.88 ERA.

"I'm going to be much [better] next year, when I know everybody in the league," Maya said through Nationals starter Livan Hernandez, who interpreted. "If I didn't think my stuff was good, I wouldn't be here."

Maya's final start of the season brought with it an unusual international twist. Maya opposed Valdes, another Cuban-born pitcher. The last time one game featured two Cuban starting pitchers had been May 22, 2003, when Hernandez, then of the Montreal Expos, faced Michael Tejera of the Florida Marlins. Hernandez pitched a complete game and Tejera took the loss as the Expos won, 8-2.

Maya did not have the same luck Saturday. He remained confident that his second tour through the majors will allow himself to unlock his best potential. "I wanted to win the first game this year," Maya said. "It didn't happen. You've got to wait until next year."

Said Riggleman: "There's something about him. I really like the way he competes. He's not scared. He's like [Hernandez]. He throws anything at any time. We didn't get the results yet. But I see some things there that encourage me."

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