- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

The Washington Nationals insist to a man they aren’t obsessed with the number 100. They’ve known for a while they would hit the century mark in losses for the second straight season, but they haven’t fretted over that fact.

“Nobody’s talked about it,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said Thursday afternoon. “I’ll be honest with you: If we had lost that game [Wednesday] night, I wouldn’t have known that was our 100th loss.”

Whether they realize it or not, whether they care about it or not, it is now fact. The Nationals have lost 100 games. Again.

Despite rallying to tie the Dodgers after spotting them an early four-run lead, Washington could not finish this one off. Rafael Furcal’s solo homer off reliever Ron Villone in the eighth proved the deciding blow in a 7-6 loss Thursday night.

It was fitting that loss No. 100 would come in such fashion because so many of the previous 99 played out like this. The Nationals’ bullpen, though it has improved considerably from its April and May woes, has been charged with 38 losses during this difficult season.

That relief corps is hardly the only facet of Washington’s roster to blame for the events of the last six months. This has been an organizational failure, with everyone having a hand in the outcome.

“It was just a menagerie of things,” reliever Jason Bergmann said. “I think stuff just didn’t go right at different points in time.”

Thus the Nationals join an elite group of which they would rather not be a member. Since 1980, only three other franchises have suffered through consecutive 100-loss seasons: the Tampa Bay Rays of 2001-02, the Detroit Tigers of 2002-03 and a Kansas City Royals organization that hit the century mark three straight years from 2004 to 2006.

“I think it’s disappointing to lose more than half your games, period, with the roster we have,” Villone said. “Talent is one thing, and not getting it done is another. And unfortunately for us, it’s been too often.”

The Nationals know the only way to prevent this from happening again is to shore up the majors’ worst pitching staff, especially a young rotation that is high on promise but low on tangible results to date.

That much was on display again Thursday, with rookie J.D. Martin unable to reach the fourth inning. The 26-year-old had been 5-2 with a 3.15 ERA in his previous eight starts, but it was immediately clear he wasn’t going to get the job done when he took the mound Thursday and realized he had no command of his curveball. Three singles and a home run to Matt Kemp later, Martin had no choice but to abandon the pitch altogether.

“Sometimes when I’m leaving my curveball up, I just keep throwing it till I get a feel for it,” he said. “Tonight, I just never really got that feel for it.”

Rarely can a ballclub overcome that kind of performance from its starting pitcher and even have a legitimate shot at winning the game, but the Nationals somehow did just that. Taking advantage of a laboring Vicente Padilla, they scored four times in five innings against the Los Angeles right-hander, getting RBI hits from Elijah Dukes, Alberto Gonzalez and Willie Harris.

And they didn’t let up once Padilla departed and the Dodgers’ tough bullpen entered trying to protect a 6-4 lead. Pinch hitter Cristian Guzman (out of the lineup with a bad shoulder) beat out a sixth-inning grounder and knocked over first baseman James Loney in the process, allowing Dukes to score from second. Another RBI single by Harris brought home the tying run and had the crowd of 22,432 thinking the home team again might avoid the 100-loss mark.

Alas, it was only a matter of time before that milestone was reached. And now it will be etched in the franchise’s record book, a sad reminder of a two-year stretch of bad baseball that most who experienced it would rather forget.

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