- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

When they slink into Atlanta’s Turner Field on Friday night, the Gnats will be coming off their hottest four-day stretch of the season.

The All-Star break, of course.


This is what we rejoiced about in September 2004 when the Montreal Expos skedaddled southward?

As every rounders rooter this side of Charm City knows, Washington endured 33 years without major league baseball. Oops, here’s a late flash. Make that 36 years and counting.

The Nationals finished last in the National League East each of their first three seasons - even after snappily starting their maiden voyage 50-31 - and their chances of escaping the basement in 2008 are roughly the same as those of Ralph Nader becoming president of these United States.

In fact, you could describe their latest journey as being unsafe at any speed.

As the second half starts, the Gnats “lead” the Braves by 9 1/2 games in their unthrilling dungeon duel. Atlanta‘s third baseman, the nonsensically nicknamed Chipper Jones, probably could outhit any eight Washington position players all by himself.

Then again, so could eight guys from the nearest bar.

Sorry if I sound bitter. It’s just that I’m one of the old-timers who hollered hosannas when the Nationals came to town. Now I only can echo a line from the old Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart tune “Glad to Be Unhappy,” via Frank Sinatra’s pipes in 1954: “Unrequited love’s a bore.”

Speaking of a bore, we bought tickets to Sunday’s game between the Gnats and Astros - yes, sportswriters do take an occasional busman’s holiday - and widespread apathy broke out.

The Gnats lost the game 5-0, making the national anthem the afternoon’s dramatic highlight. Y’know, all those bombs bursting in air …

Just like his team, Teddy lost again during the Race of the Presidents. Maybe the ballclub should retire him, George, Abe or Tom. The way the Gnats are playing, Alf, Barry, Jimmy and Fritz should be competing.

OK, I know this team has had more casualties than the “House” TV show, with eight of the nine Opening Night starters plus closer Chad Cordero spending significant time on the disabled list. The survivors might not be able to win in the Class AAA International League or even on the nearest sandlot.

We keep hearing what a fine manager Manny Acta is, so why are the Gnats so oblivious to such horsehide fundamentals as hitting behind the runner, throwing to the right base and taking the first pitch or two when they’re behind by a bunch.

The other day, for example, Kory Casto sped from first to second on a sinking liner that was trapped in the outfield. That would have been a dandy idea except that another guy wearing a red shirt with the initials “DC”already was perched on the bag.

This caused some observers to update the possibly apocryphal story involving the Dodgers’ Daffiness Boys of the 1920s.

Spectator outside the ballpark, yelling to a fan in the Ebbets Field stands: “Hey, Mac, how are the Bums doing?”

“Great - they got two men on base.”

“Yeah? Which base?”

But, no, this could never happen at Nationals Park, because the fan in the stands would be asleep.

Here’s some excellent advice for this terrible team: Don’t show up for the season’s final 66 games. Throw up a white flag before your remaining fans throw up period. Let all your worthwhile troops heal their wounds and get an early start on fall/winter/spring training. Save yourselves further embarrassment and us further ennui.

I realize quitters never win and winners never quit, but you’re not gonna win anyway. In this case, discretion - or maybe outward cowardice - might be the better part of valor.

Chances are very few sports nuts in these parts would notice a bailout. After all, the almighty Redskins open training camp in three days.

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