After the Washington Nationals turned an unfamiliar corner at Nationals Park on Thursday afternoon, the clubhouse was quiet. The players sat in front of their lockers and on the recliner with no explanation for what had just happened.
Less than 24 hours after reaching .500, the Nationals celebrated Laynce Nix’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to sweep the Seattle Mariners in a 1-0 victory for the team’s first winning record this late in a season since Oct. 1, 2005, when the Nationals were 81-80 heading into the last game of the season.
Then came General Manager Mike Rizzo’s shocking announcement that the players would board the team plane for a road trip without former manager Jim Riggleman, who resigned shortly after the game.
“I don’t even know what to think,” Nix said. “We’re all surprised. Right now, I can’t really say. I don’t know any information. I don’t know any of the details. I just know we’re playing well and we have a game tomorrow.”
The Nationals, who lost only one game during their nine-game homestand, begin a six-game road stretch on Friday against the Chicago White Sox. As one of the hottest teams in baseball, they take on the road a 38-37 record,having won 11 of their last 12 games. The Nationals haven’t made it easy on themselves this week, needing another walk-off win, the team’s second in three games, and a third straight one-run victory.
“Jim was a big part of us getting over .500 this late in the season,” said Jason Marquis, who held a no-hitter through 51 / 3 innings and shut out the Mariners through eight. “Obviously we wish he could have finished it out and see how this thing goes, but we have to still win ballgames and see what happens.”
On Thursday, the Nationals and Mariners took a wait-and-see approach as the teams remained scoreless through 81 / 2 innings. The Nationals began their ninth-inning rally against Mariners reliever Chris Ray.Michael Morse led off the inning with asingle, his second hit of the day. Next, Danny Espinosa laid down a drag bunt underneath Ray’s glove. The Mariners’ defense froze for a second time when first baseman Adam Kennedy didn’t field Ivan Rodriguez’s bunt in time and delivered a late throw to third.
The crowd of 21,161 stood in anticipation of Jerry Hairston’s plate appearance with the bases loaded and no outs. Hairston hit a grounder to shortstop Jack Wilson, who dived and threw home from his knees to force out pinch runner Brian Bixler. Nix, who said before the game that his sore right Achilles’ tendon wouldn’t affect his swing, entered the game to pinch-hit.
He was right.
Nix popped a flyball to left field, as Espinosa stood on third base. Mike Carp attempted a game-saving throw to home plate, but his throw was offline as Espinosa scored the winning run.
“Emotionally, it was awesome,” Espinosa said. “Just a great win to sweep that series. We’re playing good ball. We’re pulling for each other, so when everyone is on the same page good things are going to happen.”
The dugout emptied to congratulate Nix along the first base line. The celebration continued into the dugout and clubhouse before Rizzo brought the team together after he spoke with Riggleman to deliver the news.
“He’s moving on and we’re moving on,” Jayson Werth said after Riggleman moved him to the No. 2 spot in Thursday’s lineup after batting him leadoff for the previous 10 games. “Got a ballgame tomorrow and we’ve got over half the season left. I still feel good with where we’re at and where we’re going.”