Everyone whispered in the clubhouse.
In one corner, Sean Burnett let out a long, frustrated breath. The same frustration filled his face. His movements. His words.
Nights like Wednesday are the downside of taking the baseball in the late innings with the game on the line. Either you deliver an uneventful inning or two and secure a win or eight innings come crashing down in the space a few pitches.
Burnett experienced the latter, as the New York Mets rallied in the ninth inning to beat the Washington Nationals, 6-3.
“It stinks, the Nationals’ left-hander said. “There’s no excuse; We’ve got to go out there and get three outs.”
Perhaps the ninth-inning meltdown would’ve been easier to stomach if Burnett had been smacked around Nationals Park. Instead, the Mets dinked and dunked their way to four runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning.
But Burnett, who shares closing duties with right-hander Drew Storen, felt his stuff was fine. He made the pitches he wanted to. Manager Jim Riggleman agreed. That only increased the sting of the Mets’ comeback from a 3-2 deficit.
“He’s been very effective for us and I thought he would get it done out there,” said Riggleman, noting that three of the Mets’ first four batters in the ninth were left-handers. “I thought Burnett threw OK. It’s a game of inches sometimes.”
Jason Bay started off with a ground ball that Danny Espinosa couldn’t corral deep in the hole at second base. Then Ike Davis hit a soft line drive into left field that Roger Bernadina nearly gloved. A bunt from Willie Harris followed. Burnett’s throw was wide of first base and pulled Adam LaRoche well off the bag.
“It snowballed,” Burnett said. “The first two guys could’ve gone either way.”
Added Riggleman: “If either one of those balls are outs, then we’re in pretty good shape.”
After the Mets drove home runs with a sacrifice fly and groundout, Daniel Murphy came to bat. Pinch-hitting in the eighth, his home run briefly tied the game. On a 1-0 pitch in the ninth, he laced a double down the right-field line that scored two more runs and chased Burnett.
Chants of “Let’s go Mets” filled Nationals Park.
Storen trotted in and struck out David Wright to end the inning. But the damage was done.
Long gone was the solid performance from Nationals starter Tom Gorzelanny, in a game delayed 45 minutes because of rain before the first pitch. With the goal of keeping the Mets (11-13) off-balance, he scattered five hits and a run over 6.1 innings
Gone, too, were a pair of hits from Jayson Werth. And the spectacular throw by Rick Ankiel from center field to nail Jose Reyes at third base in an attempt for a triple.
All that remained was a blown save for the Nationals (10-13), another loss and the clubhouse that sounded like a funeral.
“Every loss is tough,” Jerry Hairston Jr. said. “You’ve got to be able to bounce back in this game. … It just didn’t bounce our way.”