- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

They lost the game, fell into last place for the first time since Sept.3, fell to .500 for the first time since May29 and officially fell out of the wild-card race.

Rough day at the park for the Washington Nationals.

Yesterday’s 6-5 loss to the New York Mets at RFK Stadium hurt on a number of levels. Not only did the Nationals get swept by the only team behind them in the National League East, they sealed their second-half swoon.

The loss dropped Washington (78-78) 7 games behind the Houston Astros in the wild-card race. With only six games left, the playoff dream is dead. Once 19 games over .500 with the league’s second-best record, the Nationals are finished.

“The second half, we collapsed,” catcher Gary Bennett said. “Plain and simple, we didn’t get it done.”

The Nationals had accepted for some time that they would not make the playoffs. What they never expected was that they’d need to win four of their final six games just to ensure a winning record, and that still may not be enough to avoid a last-place finish in the NL East.

“This team doesn’t want or need to finish in last place,” left fielder Brad Wilkerson said. “We’ve come up short of what we wanted to do, but coming in last place would leave a bad taste in our mouths. We need to regroup and set some goals for ourselves to get out of last place.”

The Nationals will have a hard time regrouping from their weekend series against the Mets, who looked like they had given up on this season weeks ago. Instead, New York (78-77) won three straight, coming from behind yesterday to send the crowd of 29,969 home disappointed.

The Mets hit four home runs, turning what has been baseball’s most-spacious ballpark into a bandbox. The first two came courtesy of Mike Piazza, who took Nationals starter John Patterson deep in the second and fourth innings.

Reliever Travis Hughes then surrendered the two game-winners in the eighth, solo shots by David Wright and Mike Jacobs to bring the Mets back minutes after Washington had taken the lead.

It was only the second time an opposing team has hit four homers in RFK — the Dodgers did it on Aug.2 — and it left Patterson wondering whether the ball has begun to travel better in the season’s waning days.

“No team’s going to hit four home runs here in June,” he said. “That never would happen.”

Patterson, who failed to reach the 10-win plateau for the second straight start, allowed four runs in six innings. He admitted his mind wasn’t totally focused on the game, with his hometown of Orange, Texas, in shambles after being hit by Hurricane Rita.

Patterson’s family, which fled first to a lake home about 90 miles north in Jasper County, Texas, then yesterday to Houston, may not be able to return to Orange for some time. Power could be out for a month, and with downed trees blocking roads across the area, the Pattersons may not know the state of their homes for a week.

“It was on my mind,” Patterson said. “I tried to do the best job I could under that situation.”

The Nationals tried to pick up the right-hander by rallying from one-run down to take a 5-4 lead in the seventh. Nick Johnson’s bases-loaded single to center scored two and might have scored three, but Piazza made a nice tag at the plate on Wilkerson, who took off from third after the Mets’ relay throw bounced away.

Then Hughes (1-1) gave the lead right back in the eighth. He served up a one-out bomb to Wright, then after getting Piazza on a foul pop — the only time he made an out in five plate appearances — grooved a first-pitch fastball to Jacobs and paid the price.

“I threw it with conviction,” Hughes said. “I just didn’t put it where I wanted to.”

The Nationals made one last rally attempt in the ninth, putting runners on first and second with two outs to bring rookie Ryan Zimmerman to the plate. The 20-year-old third baseman grounded into a force out to cap a frustrating 0-for-5 day and send Washington to its seventh loss in eight games.

“You’re going to lose ballgames,” manager Frank Robinson said. “You get beat. But we’re not executing the way we were and should be. That’s what’s frustrating about it.”

Notes — Reliever Luis Ayala will undergo surgery this week to have a bone spur removed from his right elbow. After being shut down for three weeks with the ailment, Ayala returned to the mound Thursday against the Giants but threw only one pitch to get out of the inning. Afterward, he complained about more pain in his elbow, so the club decided to perform the operation. Ayala is expected to be ready for spring training. …

Meanwhile, infielder Rick Short underwent surgery yesterday to repair the torn labrum in his left shoulder. Short, who will be out six months, hurt himself making a diving stop of a ground ball at second base Friday night. He had problems with that same shoulder earlier in the season at Class AAA New Orleans but continued to play.

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