Photo courtesy George Burkes
Michael Morse couldn't grab Alex Cora's three-run triple in the fourth.
Has anyone ever seen a game end with a pickoff like that?
"That's a good question," Riggleman said. "I don't know if I've seen one end that way. It's painful. But they made a great play and they got him."
Pretty much everyone inside the Nationals' clubhouse was at a loss for words at the end of the latest frustrating loss in a ever-lengthening stretch of them. There was plenty of dead time over the course of 2 hours and 56 minutes on South Capitol Street, but a handful of crucial plays wound up determining the outcome of this one. Had those plays simply gone the other way, the Nats might actually be enjoying a two-game winning streak right now.
Let's start with the Mets' decisive blow: Alex Cora's three-run triple in the fourth. Luis Atilano was THISCLOSE to wriggling his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam until he left an 0-1 fastball out over the plate to Cora, the Mets' .228-hitting second baseman.
"I thought I could get out of this," Atilano said. "But I made a horse**** pitch. Sorry to say it like that."
Expletive-worthy pitch or not, Atilano still might have gotten out of the inning had right fielder Michael Morse managed to haul in Cora's drive to the fence. He came close (as you can see from the above picture) but not quite.
"I tried the best I could," Morse said. "It was one of those that was do-or-die."
That blast, plus pitcher Jonathon Niese's subsequent RBI double, allowed the Mets to open up a 5-0 lead and sent Atilano to the showers after only 3 2/3 innings (the shortest start of his brief career). And the lead basically stayed that way all night, at least until Josh Willingham homered in the seventh to put the Nationals on the board at last.
Yep, this one was on the verge of becoming just another lackluster loss for the Nats. Starter gets knocked out early. Offense can't do squat. Drive home safely.
And then someone reminded the Nationals that this game was, in fact, not over yet so they might as well try to string together a dramatic rally in the bottom of the ninth. It began with a one-out Ryan Zimmerman walk, then continued with a two-out Ivan Rodriguez double.
All of a sudden, the tying run was on deck, so Mets manager Jerry Manuel brought in Rodriguez for what was now a save situation. His first encounter was with Bernadina, who six weeks ago crushed the second homer of his career at Citi Field off K-Rod. And the rookie outfielder delivered again, lining an RBI single to right to cut the lead to 5-2. Another RBI single, this time from Ian Desmond, made it 5-3 and brought life to a crowd of 24,410 that to that point had little reason to make noise.
By the time Willie Harris (trying to be the Met-killer yet again) worked the count full, the ballpark was rocking, a previously lifeless game now hanging in the balance with one pitch.
A pitch that never was thrown.
Wanting to get a good jump on the 3-2, two-out pitch (as all players are taught to do) Bernadina started leaning toward third. Just one problem: Shortstop Ruben Tejada was sneaking up behind him all along, and when Rodriguez spun around to fire the pickoff throw to first, Bernadina was dead meat.
"You don't expect it," Bernadina said. "But I was late. That's all I can say. I was late. It's not an excuse."
Riggleman had a few brief words for his young right fielder afterward. Not that Bernadina needed the message. He knew what he did wrong.
"It's over," Riggleman said. "It happened. And it's got to be a learning experience, not only for Bernie, but for the other players. When we get in that situation, we won't make that mistake again."
Small consolation at the end of yet another frustrating night at the ballpark.