NEW YORK — If not for the sound system and the organist at Citi Field, blaring life into the otherwise dingy day in New York, you could be excused if you didn't think a major league baseball game was happening inside.
Thursday afternoon baseball between two teams without a sniff at playoff hopes will do that. Rain on and off didn't help. And yet, as plenty fewer than the announced 22,205 looked on, the Nationals wrapped up a four-game sweep of the New York Mets with a 10-1 blowout victory.
"How many four-game sweeps are there in baseball, period?" asked reliever Todd Coffey, who got a crucial fly out from David Wright with the bases loaded in the seventh before the Nationals' offense blew the doors off of the game.
The Nationals have won five straight games, their latest on the arm of left-hander Tommy Milone and padded by a seven-run explosion in the eighth and ninth innings. They left New York in sole possession of third place in the National League East, with their first four-game sweep of the season.
With the win, Milone and Wednesday night's victor, Brad Peacock, became the first starting pitchers to earn their first major league wins on back-to-back days in Nationals history.
"It's good, especially at the end of the season," Coffey said. "Our season is going to be a failure no matter what because we didn't go to the playoffs. That's true about every single team [that doesn't win the World Series]. ... I hate to say we failed this year, but we did. We're out of the playoffs. But you always look on the positive side of everything. Now we're figuring out what we've got to do to win next year."
So what does a four-game sweep and a five-game winning streak mean in September? The easy answer is: nothing.
"I think, if you're not first, you're last," said shortstop Ian Desmond, who had a career-high five-hit game.
But for the Nationals (71-77) it's more complex. The hope is that the wins are forming the foundation of a winning future. The hope is that all of the lines about the organization "moving in the right direction" aren't just lip service.
"Wins are important," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "We need to learn to win better - and I think we're seeing signs that we're starting to do that. ... It's difficult in this league to win on the road and the younger the team, the more difficult it is. You're seeing a little maturation."
The first one maturing Thursday was Milone. He was superb in 5 2/3 innings of work, allowing only three hits and striking out four, and holding the Mets scoreless until the sixth, when their only run came home after he had departed. Milone was solid in his first two major league starts but seemed to falter once the lineup turned over. Major league hitters, he found out, adjust quickly. Milone had to adjust back.
So, as he faced the minimum his second time through the Mets order on Thursday, he passed a major marker. The Mets hadn't just seen Milone once through the order. They'd seen him for 4 1/3 innings in his major league debut —and scored four runs off him the second time around on that occasion. But Milone kept his pitches down Thursday, emphasizing that fact with his change-up, and left Citi Field wiping a celebratory whipped-cream pie off his face.
"It was kind of fun having back-to-back rookies protect a three-game winning streak," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "And they both were magnificent. With good development practices, the byproduct of that is winning. When you develop properly, you win. I've said that, and I really believe it.
"It was fun. I'll be grinning all the way home."
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