- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There was cause for rejoicing, sort of, when the Nationals surrendered four runs in the first inning Sunday and lost to the Blue Jays.

At last the Gnats were back on the wrong track.

Before that it looked like our little team that couldn’t was blowing another one. Those four straight victories through Saturday seriously imperiled any chance of replacing the 1962 Mets as the statistically worst team in recent memory.

It’s still a long shot, you understand, but at least we can hope once again. And anytime a Washington baseball team finishes first in anything, it should be enough to send loyal citizens flocking into the streets.

Let’s do the math. The expansion Metsies of ‘62 finished 40-120, the high point of their season being two games that were rained out.

After Tuesday night’s loss to the Red Sox, Washington is 20-48 - a nonwinning percentage of .294 that compares unfavorably with the Mets’ .250 pace 47 years ago. To break the futility barrier, our guys have to go 19-75 the rest of the way. That would enable them to slink off to offseason pursuits as a 39-123 - .240 gang.

Don’t despair of the Nats’ chances. Consider their inexperienced rotation, atrocious bullpen and lack of batting punch. If these negatives don’t convince you, what about all the mental mistakes, such as showing up for games?

Personally, after decades of watching a bad club with a “W” on their chests or caps, I’m confident the Nats won’t let us down. One big reason is third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the so-called “face of the franchise,” who has been doing everything at the plate a team leader should to ensure failure.

For a while there, Ryan was betraying us with all those early home runs and RBI. Now, though, he apparently has gotten the word. After the weekend, he was on an 0-for-17 batting skid. Over his last 29 games, our version of Wonder Boy had batted .198 with two dingers and 12 RBI.

Way to go, Ryan baby! Anybody still have Vinny Castilla’s phone number?

Of course, the legendary ineptitude of those baby Mets poses a stern challenge. This is the outfit of which manager Casey Stengel supposedly said, “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Not coincidentally, that also was the title of a marvelous book by Jimmy Breslin chronicling the team’s misadventures.

“The Mets lost an awful lot of games by one run, which is the mark of a bad team,” Breslin wrote, if memory serves. “They also lost innumerable games by 14 runs. This is the mark of a terrible team.”

He also wrote this: “Marvelous Marv Throneberry held down first base for the Mets, which is like saying Willie Sutton works at your bank.” (Note to whippersnappers: If you don’t know who Willie Sutton was, consult any reliable account of superstar bank robbers.)

As any student of baseball history knows, Casey’s double-talking presence and the four-year absence of a National League team in Noo Yawk helped the Mets become lovable losers. Playing at the dilapidated Polo Grounds, they drew nearly a million fans at home and swiped much of the attention from the lordly Yankees, who won their 12th pennant in 14 seasons that year.

Washington briefly hailed an abysmal team of its own when the 1949 Senators, aka the “Wondrous Nats,” were treated to a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue after inexplicably winning nine straight on an early-season Western swing. Of course, they finished last.

I doubt that many fans will cuddle up to our current losers because we’ve seen far too many of them. It has been 85 years since the original Senators won a World Series and 76 years since they snatched a pennant. Move over, Cubbies, here we come.

Therefore it behooves us to be grateful for small achievements, and going down in the books as the worst modern team ever certainly would qualify.

The hunt for a dead October will get harder after the first-place Red Sox leave town. Three games follow against the Orioles, who are so bad themselves that the Nats’ drive toward history could hit a few roadblocks.

After all, nobody said losing three of every four games would be easy. But by gosh, I’m betting Our Guys can do it.

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