- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

NEW YORK — There is such a range of emotions that comes out of a game like last night’s. From dejection to hope to elation to dejection again, the Washington Nationals experienced it all at Shea Stadium.

If only the evening hadn’t ended on such a sour note.

It’s hard to feel good about a 9-8, 10-inning loss to the New York Mets, a loss that dropped the Nationals to 1 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League wild-card race.

But considering how it reached its conclusion, with Washington rallying from the brink of oblivion — eight runs down in the seventh inning — to force extra innings, it was hard for manager Frank Robinson to get too down on his club.

“It’s not painful to lose that game right there,” Robinson said. “We fought back, and I’m very proud of the players out there. They did a tremendous job. We had our chances to win it.”



Did they ever. By a matter of perhaps two feet, the Nationals missed a chance at the second-largest comeback in franchise history, surpassed only by the Montreal Expos’ rally from nine runs down to beat the San Francisco Giants 14-13 on May16, 1997.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Brian Schneider’s two-out blast to right-center in the ninth didn’t clear the wall for what would have been a game-winning homer. Instead, it hit the wall, scoring Ryan Church and Preston Wilson with the game-tying runs and sending the game into extra innings.

“I thought it had a chance,” said Schneider, whose two-run single earlier capped Washington’s six-run seventh. “But you never know. I was running hard out of the box. From what I heard, it was pretty close. Now you look back on it, and you wish it would have gone out.”

That’s because one inning later, the Mets dashed the Nationals’ hopes. With one out in the 10th, reliever Gary Majewski (2-3) walked Gerald Williams. A two-out walk to Jose Reyes put runners on first and second. Moments later, pinch-hitter Chris Woodward’s hard grounder got past a diving Cristian Guzman, scoring Williams with the game-winning run.

“Always in baseball, that walk came back and got us,” Robinson said.

That the Nationals (64-59) even were in position to win this game was beyond remarkable. They trailed 8-0, their starting pitcher (Livan Hernandez) having been knocked around for three home runs in two innings plus three batters.

It was the second-shortest start of Hernandez’s career, besting his low of 12/3 innings (set July3, 2002 at Colorado) by only one out. The eight earned runs were the most he has surrendered in any outing since 2001, when he pitched for the San Francisco Giants.

“There’s no sense talking about [Hernandez],” Robinson said. “He just didn’t have it.”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mets had the almighty Pedro Martinez on the mound. But with his team so comfortably ahead, New York manager Willie Randolph decided there was no harm in taking his ace out after just six innings and 78 pitches. The sellout crowd of 51,785 roared with disapproval and, in the end, with merit.

Randolph needed three relievers to get through the seventh inning, and not before the Nationals pounded out six runs on six hits to make a game of it again.

Washington sent 11 men to the plate, getting an RBI double from Carlos Baerga, a run-scoring single from Jamey Carroll and two-run singles from Church and Schneider. Suddenly, rookie Tony Blanco came to the plate representing the go-ahead run and the Nationals sprang to the top step of their dugout with anticipation.

“With Pedro out, you saw the difference in the team,” said left-hander John Halama, whose four shutout innings in relief of Hernandez helped give Washington a chance. “There was enthusiasm. Now, I think everyone believed we could win this game.”

Blanco wound up grounding out to end the inning and leave the Nationals trailing 8-6.

Down to their final out in the ninth, Washington got singles from Church and Wilson, bringing Schneider to the plate against Mets closer Braden Looper. The Nationals catcher sent Looper’s 1-1 slider to the wall in right-center. For a moment, everyone thought it was headed out. But when it banged off the wall, Washington had to settle for a simple game-tying double.

In the 10th, the Nationals got a leadoff single from Guzman and a two-out walk from Carroll against Roberto Hernandez (6-5). But Nick Johnson’s deep drive to center field reached only the warning track, a 400-foot blast that was nothing more than a long out — and the difference between Washington’s most dramatic victory of the year and just another heartbreaking loss.

“I mean, we fought back from 8-0,” Carroll said. “It’s frustrating, but I think you look at the positives. … There was a lot of enthusiasm in there. It just [stinks] that we weren’t able to finish it off.”

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