By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010; 12:40 AM
NEW YORK - This Washington Nationals season included, in no particular order, a promising start, a brawl, an unbearable Tommy John surgery announcement, a tantrum-induced inside-the-park home run, a season-crushing fade that never stopped, so much anti-climax and the one blissful June night when the baseball world turned its gaze toward Washington not to laugh, but to watch in awe.
For all of the unexpected turns and comic twists and tragic ends, the goofiest moment came last. On Sunday at Citi Field, a windy day made for hooded sweatshirts, the Nationals played 14 innings in Game 162 and beat the New York Mets, 2-1, before 30,849. They scored the game-winning run, after their rock-steady bullpen dominated, when four consecutive hitters stood still in the batter's box.
Justin Maxwell forced home the final run of the Nationals' season by taking ball four from a pitcher previously resigned to calcifying in the Mets bullpen. Oliver Perez, in his third appearance since Aug. 1, hit one batter and walked two others to load the bases before facing Maxwell.
Miguel Batista pitched the final inning for a tirelessly excellent bullpen that produced 71/3 scoreless frames.
As day turned to evening, the game took on an oddly familiar feel. Last year, when the Nationals toppled the Atlanta Braves, 2-1, it took 15 innings for their final game to end.
"The guys started telling me it's kind of becoming a tradition here," Batista said. "My first question was, 'Did you guys win?' I don't want to stay this long and lose."
The Nationals finished 69-93, a 10-win improvement over last season but tied with Manny Acta's Cleveland Indians for the sixth-worst record in the majors.
For dissatisfied players and coaches, their final, delirious victory aside, it was hard to find progress amongst all those losses.
"I'm not happy with the year at all," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "I thought we should have won 75 ballgames. We didn't reach 70. So I'm certainly not satisfied with what we did. Now, am I satisfied with the effort we got and the intensity and the passion we played with? Yeah."
Along the way, the Nationals mastered squandering momentum, sometimes before they could even gather it.
They compiled just one four-game winning streak, none longer. Only one other team, the Kansas City Royals, did not have either a five-game winning streak or multiple four-game tears.
"I think it's a very disappointing season," said first baseman Adam Dunn, who left the game for a pinch hitter stuck on 199 strikeouts. "I think this team is capable of a lot more. For some reason, we never got it going. I don't know, but it's here. For some reason, it's not coming out on a consistent, day-to-day basis. I don't know why that is."
The most likely explanation for Dunn's disconnect: In 2009, the Nationals often lost comically.
In 2010, they often lost cruelly.
The Nationals went 20-28 in one-run games, even after Sunday's triumph. They finished 3-10 in extra-inning games, the second-worst record in the league.
"I really felt when we won 59, I felt we got some breaks," Riggleman said. "We probably should have won 52, 53. I remember games that it was like, 'How did we win that game?' This year, I feel like we should have won at least 75. I feel like it went the other way."
On Sunday, anyway, it went their way. In the fifth inning, Alberto Gonzalez walked to the plate with one out, Roger Bernadina on third base. Gonzalez had four RBI in 180 at-bats this year. Since 1901, only two players had accounted for four or fewer RBI in a season in which they took at least 175 at-bats.
When Gonzalez lashed a single to right field, Bernadina trotted home and saved Gonzalez from that particular infamy.
It also gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Livan Hernandez finished his season like the staff ace he became, yielding just one run in 62/3 innings.
Once he handed the ball to Riggleman, the best phase of the Nationals took the game over. Sean Burnett, Doug Slaten, Drew Storen, Joel Peralta and Batista allowed two hits and one walk in 71/3 innings.
The Nationals bullpen pitched 5452/3 innings, more than any in the league, a burden that would typically disallow effectiveness.
But their 3.33 ERA ranked fourth in the majors and seventh all-time among bullpens that threw at least 540 innings.
"More than anything," Peralta said, "it's pride."
Their final statement set up the 14th, when Perez came jogging in from the bullpen.
After he struck out Ian Desmond, the crowd derisively chanted "M-V-P!" Then Perez hit Adam Kennedy with a pitch and walked Roger Bernadina and Wil Nieves.
Justin Maxwell, who had hit three grand slams in five career at-bats with the bases loaded, came up next.
"Just looking for a pitch up to drive," Maxwell.
He put the looking part to good use. Perez walked him on a 3-2 fastball to force in the final run of the Nationals' season.
The final pitch - a line drive by Josh Thole - ended up in Nyjer Morgan's glove. He held the ball aloft.
The Nationals poured from their dugout and lingered on the mound. They hugged each other and started to say goodbye.
There are, they believe, more successful seasons in their future.
None, down to the final day, will be more eventful.
"We'll kind of take a little something positive with us," Riggleman said. "With a win to finish it."