- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Baseball, with no clock to curtail its quirky musings, sometimes has a funny way of merging disparate sets of circumstances into a neat little package.

On Monday night, when left-hander Ross Detwiler took the mound for his 13th and final start of the season, he knew he had one shot to get a big league victory before being shut down for the season. And closer Mike MacDougal, who was unhittable in August but rattled in September, was in similar need of some good news after a rough month.

Neither one was supposed to be here. But Detwiler, the former first-round pick who was called up ahead of schedule only because of injuries in the rotation, needed this win. And MacDougal, the scrap-heap pickup brought up from Class AAA Syracuse thanks to a clause in his contract that allowed him to ask for his release after 21 days if he was still in the minors, needed this save.

And near the end of a trying month — one that’s capped a trying season — both got their wish. The Nationals held off the New York Mets by a score of 2-1 on Monday night at Nationals Park, bringing a dose of validation to two pitchers who were thirsting for it.

Even if it had gone unrewarded, Detwiler’s night would have ranked among his best of the year. The left-hander allowed one run in six innings, showing some of the best strike zone command he’s displayed this season in the majors. His fastball touched 93 mph, though it occasionally floated in the top half of the strike zone, and Detwiler coolly attacked the more imposing hitters in the Mets’ lineup from the beginning.

He threw first-pitch fastballs to the Mets’ top four hitters, all for strikes, and stuck with the fastball-first approach most of the night — though when Detwiler needed to get out of a fifth-inning jam with runners on second and third and no outs, he finished off a trio of hitters with off-speed pitches.

That was the most dramatic of the three predicaments Detwiler avoided; he left runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth. The only one he failed to escape was in the sixth, when he gave up three hits and threw two wild pitches, allowing the Mets to score their one run off him.

And it looked like that one run might have been enough to cost Detwiler the win, too, when the Nationals pinch-hit for him in the sixth after he’d thrown 99 pitches.

The marginal run the Nationals had failed to give Detwiler all year, though, finally arrived.

Mike Morse, who had hit homers the last two games and already had two hits in his first two at-bats, blasted a 2-1 pitch from Mets starter Nelson Figueroa to right field, giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead in the sixth and belatedly putting Detwiler in line for the victory.

The lead stayed at one through two no-hit innings from Jason Bergmann, and then it was on to MacDougal, the faltering closer who had been hit to the tune of a 11.25 ERA in September — though he still had only blown one save — and was part of a pick-me-up meeting on Monday with interim manager Jim Riggleman and pitching coach Steve McCatty after he gave up three runs in a 10th inning full of walks, hit batsmen and bloop singles in Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Braves.

“Better things are ahead if you can somehow find that strike zone more consistently,” Riggleman said, relaying to reporters what he had told MacDougal before the game. “I tried to talk to a few guys individually, just to keep pumping them up, because we’ve played really good baseball. That sounds ridiculous with our record, but from a couple of months ago until 10 days ago, we were really playing pretty good baseball.”

The proof came through on Monday night: MacDougal worked a perfect ninth inning, getting a couple of groundouts for an anticlimactic capper to his 17th save.

And both he and Detwiler could breathe a little easier.

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