- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There are only two opponents remaining on the Washington Nationals‘ schedule in 2007, a season that is nearing completion for a club that has exceeded expectations but has been out of the pennant race since late April.

The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, though, still have plenty on the line over the season’s final two weeks, with the two National League East powers duking it out for both the division title and a wild-card berth. So the fate of both will be tied directly to the Nationals, who over their final 13 games have an opportunity to determine who gets to play in October and who goes home.

Washington’s players don’t take this responsibility lightly, as evidenced by the way they thumped the Mets 12-4 last night at RFK Stadium.

“We’re playing spoilers these next 13 games,” outfielder Ryan Church said. “All we’re really playing for is to stay out of the cellar and eliminate some teams. We’ve done it in the past, and I think guys are going to take that to heart and really go out there and try to put a hurting on the other team.”

The Nationals put plenty of hurting on New York last night, taking advantage of four errors and some other mental mistakes to score 12 unanswered runs after falling behind 4-0 early.

Following that inauspicious start, in which Washington right-hander Tim Redding allowed four runs over four shaky innings, manager Manny Acta walked through his team’s dugout and tried to fire up his troops.

“Hey, just give it a fight,” Acta told his players. “Don’t roll over for anybody. Let’s play the game hard, the right way.”

The Nationals (67-83) immediately turned the game around, matching their record for runs scored at RFK by pouncing on the shell-shocked Mets, who have seen their lead over the Phillies dwindle to 2½ games.

The key move might have been Acta’s decision to pinch-hit for Redding with two on and two out in the fourth. The Nationals had scored four runs to tie the game, and even though they didn’t add to their total in that inning, Redding’s departure opened the door for the bullpen to take over and take control. Five relievers combined to toss five shutout innings, with rookie Jonathan Albaladejo earning his first career win with a 11/3-inning stint.

“I have 11 guys sitting in my bullpen,” Acta said. “I don’t see why we have to wait until a guy gives up so many runs. Especially playing a team like [the Mets], every out is precious. … I felt it was the right thing to do. My bullpen was rested, and they did the job today.”

The Nationals scored another run in the fifth to take the lead, then added four more during an unsightly sixth inning that featured one hit (Nook Logan’s bunt single) and included three walks, two errors and a fielder’s choice.

Three more runs in the seventh, capped by Church’s pinch-hit homer, completed the rousing comeback.

“I don’t know where the good at-bats started,” Logan said. “But when somebody had a good at-bat, it just carried over and carried over to the next guy. That’s how you win ballgames.”

And how you deal a contending club a serious blow to its playoff chances.

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