- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

After all they’ve been through, the last way the Washington Nationals want to close out their inaugural season is by getting swept by a playoff-bound division rival.

It’s bad enough that the Nationals are still stuck on 81 wins after yesterday’s 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies as they head into today’s season finale at RFK Stadium.

If they want to cap this remarkable season with a winning record, they’re going to have to have to put it all together one last time against the Phillies, who need a win plus a loss by the Houston Astros to force a one-game playoff for the National League wild-card spot.

“I’ve got some friends on the other team, but the last thing I wish for them is to be in the playoffs when I’m on my way home,” Nationals reliever Joey Eischen said. “Hopefully, everybody can be locked in and focused on what we need to try to do, and whose season we’re trying to ruin.”

A loss by Washington this afternoon might in some way ruin much of what this club established over the last six months. It may seem trivial, but the difference between 81-81 and 82-80 is significant.

With a positive outcome in the finale, the Nationals can forever say their first season in D.C. was a winning one. With a negative outcome, they’ll be reduced to a mere .500 club in baseball history.

Washington also may need one last victory to avoid a last-place finish in the NL East, a division it once led by as many as 5 games.

“We wanted to win these last two,” manager Frank Robinson said. “We want to win tomorrow. We’ll go out and approach it that way. Hopefully, we can get one.”

The crowd that gathers at RFK today, much like the 32,903 who turned out yesterday (minus some large pockets of Phillies fans sprinkled throughout the park), will offer up one last show of appreciation for the team that captured their hearts during the summer. They’ll implore Hector Carrasco to give them one more memorable start and hope the hit-or-miss Nationals lineup can produce something against Philadelphia right-hander Jon Lieber — the same opposing pitcher from Opening Day.

“We want to come out and play the game the way it’s meant to be played,” first baseman Nick Johnson said.

The Nationals didn’t give themselves much of a chance from the start of yesterday’s game, even with John Patterson on the mound. Washington’s would-be ace was anything but in his final outing of the year, getting pounded for seven runs in 52/3 labored innings.

Patterson (9-7) never looked right. He allowed the game’s first four batters to reach — including Jimmy Rollins, who extended his hitting streak to 35 games with a double on the first pitch of the afternoon — then watched as three runs came around to score on Ryan Howard’s bases-loaded double.

A two-run homer in the fifth by Chase Utley (who added a solo shot off Eischen in the seventh) coupled with Howard’s solo homer in the sixth put the final stamp on one of Patterson’s worst starts of the year.

It was a bittersweet ending to Patterson’s breakout season, albeit one that perhaps had been building during the last few weeks. As recently as Aug.24, Patterson owned a 7-4 record and sparkling 2.34 ERA. During his final seven starts, as all the innings began to catch up to him, he went 2-3 with a 5.29 ERA.

Thus, his final numbers — nine wins, a 3.13 ERA — don’t necessarily indicate how well he pitched for most of the season.

“I’m not going to go home with my head down, that’s for sure,” Patterson said. “I achieved what I wanted to accomplish this year. … I just didn’t finish strong.”

Patterson was somewhat reluctant to hand the ball over to Robinson upon being removed from the game with two outs in the sixth and the Phillies leading 7-2. But as he retreated to the third-base dugout, he was greeted by a standing ovation from a crowd that applauded the full scope of his work rather than this disappointing outing.

“You have to look at the whole over the course of the season,” Robinson said, “and see what he accomplished this year.”

For one day, Patterson was overshadowed by Philadelphia righty Brett Myers, who struck out a career-high 12 in 62/3 innings. Myers (13-8) gave up two early runs, including Ryan Church’s first homer in 116 at-bats, but he cruised from then on and rode his teammates’ offensive explosion to victory.

One more explosion today, and the Phillies might just get a chance to play host to a playoff game tomorrow against the Astros.

“They’re a talented enough team to play in the playoffs,” Robinson said. “They look like they’re at the top of their game right now.”

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