NEW YORK — Bryce Harper walked to home plate at Citi Field a few minutes before 6 p.m. on Sunday, booed heavily as usual. The Washington Nationals were one out away from the end of the most disappointing season in their short D.C. history, from what was soon to be a 1-0 loss to the New York Mets, who finished seven games ahead of Washington in the National League East, the division the Nationals owned a year ago.
By that time, Harper no longer had a chance for the NL batting title. Dee Gordon had seized that an hour or so earlier. As he stepped to the plate, he was one RBI short of 100 and tied for the NL home run lead. His thoughts were not focused on either.
“I didn’t want to make the last out at Citi Field,” Harper said afterward, his standards — like his team’s — shaved to survival, about fending off the end.
Harper swung big and grounded Jeurys Familia’s first pitch up the third base line for a double, pushing his average above .330 and giving the Nationals one last chance — Jayson Werth. He flied out to center field, and the season, its importance long since whittled to individual achievements, was over.
“We didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs for a while now. In that regard, it wasn’t as tough as it could have been, I guess,” Werth said of his feelings at the end. “But I look at this season as an opportunity missed.”
When things went wrong — and they went wrong often — Manager Matt Williams planned for tomorrow. The players said they had to do the same, dismissing countless unsatisfactory yesterdays because they had another game to play. They will not play a game of consequence again until April and will look different when they do.
“When it’s over, as we’ve talked about, it all happens very abruptly,” Williams said. “Time to reflect, time to evaluate and move on from there.”
Williams’s tomorrows crept away, through countless ebbs and flows, blown leads and walk-offs, injuries and no-hitters, until the last out was recorded. A day after Max Scherzer provided one of the most memorable highs of the season, his teammates were nearly no-hit in their final game, saved when Clint Robinson’s line drive banged off shortstop Ruben Tejada’s knee with two outs in the seventh.
Right-hander Blake Treinen came in to pitch the eighth inning, the 27-year-old with the 98-mph sinker that lights up scouts’ eyes but who alternated strong performances with struggles often enough that the Nationals sent him to Class AAA Syracuse at one point. He held right-handers to a .188 batting average entering Sunday; lefties hit .333 against him. Mets left-handed leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson greeted him by homering to center field for the Mets’ first run in 19 innings — the only one they needed for their 90th win.
“It’s pretty much the same as every year,” shortstop Ian Desmond said when he was asked about his thoughts when the final out was made. “No more at-bats.”
But this is not the same as every year. His tears in his postgame interview proved that. Desmond is likely to depart via free agency this offseason, previously unable to agree to an extension with the team that drafted him 12 years ago. His last season was not supposed to end like this, with tears of disappointment instead of long-awaited tears of World Series joy.
“No matter what, we kept on grinding away,” Desmond said. “Obviously, no one wants to sit here and play pity party, but it was a tough year. We overcame a lot. Not enough, but I’m extremely proud of the way we handled our business.”
Desmond went 0 for 2 with a walk in his finale, and only Harper and Robinson had hits for the Nationals. As shadows slid across Citi Field, the batting title slid out of Harper’s reach. He began the day a few tenths of a point ahead of Gordon, who doubled and homered in his first two at-bats. Harper grounded out in his first two, after which Gordon led by four points. He wound up at .333, with Harper at .330.
Jacob deGrom did not allow a hit through four innings before the Mets pulled himto keep him fresh for the playoffs. Bartolo Colon and Logan Verrett pitched an inning each, but the Nationals could not hit them either. Seven more outs, and they would have been no-hit.
But Tanner Roark matched the Mets, throwing six scoreless innings despite jams here and there. Nationals starters ended the season with 31 consecutive scoreless innings — a reminder of the consistency this rotation was capable of but never sustained.
“I’m proud of the guys for fighting. I’m proud of them for the way they went about it,” Williams said in what could have been his final postgame interview as manager of the Nationals should the front office decide a change there is necessary. “We had some things that went sideways in that we had a whole bunch of injuries. Not much you can do about this but adjust and move on.”
Adjustments can be made over months now, not days; players’ skills can be improved by offseason repetition; and the roster and staff can be altered to fare better next year. Some, like Harper and Werth, will be back. Others, like Desmond and perhaps his manager, may not be. But after seven months, 83 wins and 79 losses — a winning season in which they did not win enough — none of these Nationals will play again tomorrow.
More on the Nationals:
Nationals Journal: Harper loses batting title, still has historic numbers
Nationals Journal: Desmond ‘proud to say I was a Washington National’