- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

To the naked eye, Frank Robinson’s day wasn’t out of the ordinary. The Washington Nationals manager’s 160th game of the season yesterday looked very much like the 159 that preceded it.

Of course, everyone inside RFK Stadium for the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the New York Mets — the men in uniform, the writers in the press box, the 27,805 fans in the stands — knew better.

Robinson’s day was anything but ordinary.

One day after learning he won’t be retained for a sixth season with the franchise, Robinson began what surely will be an awkward final weekend of his baseball career.

Nationals officials still have made no formal announcement about the state of their manager’s job, still have not said when they will make such an announcement and still have not said what (if anything) they plan to do to honor the 71-year-old at tomorrow’s finale against the Mets.

If the club has decided to hold any season-ending festivities, no one has informed Robinson.

“No idea,” he said before the game. “If it happens, it’s great. If it doesn’t happen, I wouldn’t have any real feelings about it.”

Make no mistake, though: Robinson would like to have an opportunity to say thanks and goodbye to his fans, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Internet message boards the last two days have been flooded with pleas from fans to the organization to give the Hall of Famer his due farewell after 51 years in the major leagues, even if many of those same fans did not want him back as manager.

Several people within the organization agreed yesterday, saying they believe the Nationals should do something tomorrow to commemorate Robinson’s final game. Unfortunately, none of them knows whether the club has anything planned. Team president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden have not only kept the manager out of the loop on this one, they’ve kept the entire front office out as well.

Robinson isn’t looking for anything extravagant, just a chance to express his feelings in a public forum. And he doesn’t even need a crib sheet.

“Just like I do most things: from the heart,” he said. “Ad-lib what comes into my head. I don’t prepare anything. I know sometimes that makes me sound like I’m a little off, and going off in different directions. But I just try to say what’s in my heart.”

There wasn’t much opportunity for Robinson and Nationals fans to interact last night. He didn’t move from his customary spot along the third-base dugout railing until the game was over. He never needed to make a trip to the mound to remove a pitcher and never needed to get in an umpire’s face and argue a call.

There were some indications of his pending retirement, though. A few fans behind the Washington dugout held up signs, like the one that simply said: “Thanks Frank.” Some expressed their feelings verbally, shouting out words of encouragement to the manager as the game played out.

“They were very nice,” Robinson said. “They were just saying how wonderful I was, and they wished me well.”

That said, last night was about baseball and not personal tributes. The Nationals, still exhausted from Thursday’s late-night victory over the Phillies that didn’t end until 2:07 a.m. thanks to a 4-hour, 27-minute rain delay, played a mostly crisp game against the division-champion Mets before faltering late.

They scored a run in the fourth when Felipe Lopez stole third and came all the way around on catcher Paul Lo Duca’s throwing error, then took the lead moments later when Ryan Zimmerman lined John Maine’s next pitch into right-center for his 110th RBI of the season.

They endured through yet one more laborious start by Tony Armas Jr., who likely ended his tenure with the franchise with a five-inning, two-run, 112-pitch outing.

“Whatever happens, happens. I don’t care,” said Armas, a free agent who is not expected to re-sign with Washington. “There’s still a lot of teams out there. If I come back, I come back. If I don’t, what are you going to do?”

Armas actually was in line for the win when Ryan Church clubbed his second homer in as many nights — a solo shot to center in the sixth.

But the Nationals proceeded to blow the lead when reliever Ryan Wagner surrendered an RBI single to Carlos Beltran in the seventh and Jon Rauch loaded the bases before serving up a sacrifice fly to Shawn Green in the eighth.

It felt like just about every other night at RFK this season. Robinson, the Nationals and everyone else in the ballpark, though, knew better.

“I saw the signs and everything like that,” Church said. “They were there, and that means a lot to him. Hopefully, these last two games, we can go out and get a ‘W’ for him.”

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