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After 162 Games and 15 Innings, It's All Over

The 2009 Nats changed almost entirely from April through October, but they were unconventional from Game 1 until Game 162. Unconventional, and memorable. And this was a fitting way to end the season. You thought the Nats wanted to just get the year over with? Au contraire. The last game of 2009 was also one of the most compelling. In 15 innings, the Nats defeated the Braves, 2-1. Pretty crazy. The same bullpen known for combustion wouldn't crack. The pitching staff walked just two, holding Atlanta scoreless after the sixth. And Logan Kensing, twice designated for assignment this year, recorded the final six outs, striking out Brooks Conrad to end it... with the runners on second and third.

"I'll tell ya, win or lose, that's one where you have to say, 'I was proud to be associated with that one,'" Jim Riggleman said in the aftermath. "Because both clubs -- 15 innings, no errors, great relays to hold runners at third. Big hits, even though there weren't many hits. Great pitching. Good defense. And that's the kind of defense we're hoping to be able to play."

He continued, "I'm just very proud of them, and they should be proud of themselves. Under the circumstances, with our record -- late in the year, to be playing with that kind of intensity, it's really a credit to them, because it's easy to let it get away from you in terms of motivation and stuff, and I think our guys stayed motivated and just played some really good baseball."

Here's your list of extra inning absurdity, bullet-by-bullet...

* This was the longest game for the Nats since their exodus from Canada.

* Justin Maxwell had seven plate appearances, and didn't once put a ball in play. (Four Ks, three walks)

* The Nats were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position until Alberto Gonzalez, in the bottom of the 15th, had an RBI single to break the tie.

* Washington became the first team in MLB history to start the year on a seven-game losing streak and finish it with a seven-game winning streak. (OK, that has nothing to do with extra innings, but it deserves its own bullet.)

Said Ron Villone: "I enjoyed everything about it, the experience. I'd never played on a 100-loss team before; so be it. It's an experience. You chalk it up to that. But I see what is possible, watching some of our younger talent start to blossom a bit. It's something I want to be a part of."

A few other things here before I depart the Turner Field press box: There are, to be sure, a ton of offseason questions, and they begin almost immediately. Monday morning, I'll post a lengthy Q&A with GM Mike Rizzo about some of the frontburner issues. The Nats need an assistant GM, a farm director, a permanent manager, a front-line starting pitcher, a middle infielder...

Well, all of that can wait for at least a bit.

The 103-loss 2009 Nationals were always fascinating, and almost always perplexing. For the print edition, I wrote a (hopefully entertaining) gamer/season summary that had me digging through the 2009 archives -- and smiling almost without fail. You had Adam Dunn missing three cut-off men one night -- "spiking the ball," as Manny Acta described. You had the Tyler Clippard balk where he stumbled off the mound. You had a two grand-slam game from Josh Willingham, a gem from John Lannan at Yankee Stadium, a 30-game hitting streak from Ryan Zimmerman, and of course, some notable preseason commentary from Julian Tavarez. (Who remains unemployed.) Anyway, tons of memorable moments, right down to the end. We're better for having seen it.

By Chico Harlan  |  October 4, 2009; 7:19 PM ET
 
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Next: Q&A With Mike Rizzo

Comments

Thanks, Chico, for making this season fun. We'll keep our eyes open for NJ posts to continue often. But do get some rest!

Posted by: sbuck | October 4, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Chico...thanks for all your writing this season. Reading your blogs and articles made this season more tolerable for all of us. Thanks again.

Posted by: AshburnVA | October 4, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

I feel alot more hopeful for future Nats success now than I did at mid-season. Way to finish strong, down to the last out!

Posted by: cabraman | October 4, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

"i hope this sprint to the finish doesn't lull rizzo and the front office into a false sense that the talent is better than it really is.

Posted by: surly_w | October 4, 2009"

They really do need better starting pitching. The relievers seem to fail, get back up and LEARN! So, perhaps that situation is better than everyone deemed? At least as far as the younger prospect types and younger players.

But starting pitching does need to be addressed. And remedied.

As far as the rest? Well look at the job Hodges did with the '69 Mets who's only real hitters were Agee and Jones? The rest of the positions other than catcher and shortstop were all platooned in a pretty strict left-right regimen that. That "halves" made up quite a whole.

Even still that team was all about consistently great, clutch pitching.

Posted by: periculum | October 4, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

I'll second, uh, third the thanks to Chico for his work this season, and for putting up with our shenanigans.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | October 4, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Chico for a post bordering on profound, mayhap even moving final post. :)

And thank you 2009 Syracuse Chiefs for rescuing this team from tumbling down into the depths that often comes with 100 plus losses.

Posted by: periculum | October 4, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Chico, thanks for the great storytelling this season. As time has passed, I've wondered if you might have become more fond of our beloved Nationals. Being a fan of this team defies common sense sometimes, but that's part of the beauty of it. That said, I look forward to reading about more wins next year.

Posted by: dcbatgirl | October 4, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I'll join the others in thanking you Chico for your work and my smiles this year. You had your (deserved) struggles with Planet NJ this year, but it's all worked out well. You're a pro.

Same to Planet NJ. A part of my day for a long time. Zendo, you said it best in your post in the last thread. The Cards were my dad's team too, and those links live on in us. My son and I have followed the Nats together and I imagine hearing a Nats score will make him think of me long after I'm gone.

Posted by: utec | October 4, 2009 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

Thank you for all your great writing. This just doesn't feel like a losing season???
To play they way they did today, has to go down as a team with great heart. Next year will be different...but 2009 was a good one to have been a fan.

Thanks again, and thanks to the Nats, great and small.

Mickey Campagna

Posted by: lbcalvert | October 4, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Mr. Chico! But please don't ever say that games are meaningless unless they involve a pennant race. You did that the other day when you said that the Braves were playing their first meaningless game (because they were out of the wild card race). That might be some sort of journalistic shorthand I don't understand, but as long as people are going to the games or watching them on tv, and as long as one generation is passing along a love of the game to the next, there are NO meaningless games! This town is obsessed with winning and losing, and I know we are not the only town like that, but there is a lot of meaning in each competition where men are doing their best and people are enjoying the sheer beauty of the game, regardless of the standings.

I will miss following the season until it starts anew! How can football fans do it with just 16 once a week games? Impossible!

Posted by: poncedeleroy | October 4, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse

What a memorable season finale. If the owners spring for pitching--sadly I think we need 2 not just 1 additional starters and bull pen help as well--and perhaps a position player or two, this could actually be a good team next year.

I also send a word of thanks to Chico for all the work he has done (and we have enjoyed), as well as Carpenter and Dibble who really seem to have great chemistry and are fun to listen to. And last but not least, to the 2009 "Natinals" who were weird and exasperating and wonderful. May Zim win the gold glove, may the hot stove serve up something delicious, and may 2010 bring an above .500 team to Natstown.

Posted by: NatsFly | October 4, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Hats off to the Nats for closing strong; to Chico for keeping us posted and writing with panache; to all the baseball aficonados on this blog who kept debating one another about this lovable, last place team.
There's always next year, and it's hard to believe it won't get better. The Nats finally have a GM in place who seems to have a clue. I've been behind them since Day 1 here in DC and I ain't going anywhere.
Let the post-season rumor-mongering begin!

Posted by: jdsp2000 | October 4, 2009 8:25 PM | Report abuse

I didn't expect a win today, what with the full-fledged Syracuse lineup. Pleasent surprise.
Believe it or not, a fun season to watch. What with Zimmerman's breakout and Dunn's breakout and the Nyjer Morgan deal. I think if we can get Dunn, Morgan, and Desmond in the lineup 140 games next year, along with getting some legitimate starting pitching, we have a real chance of improving by 20 or 25 games.

Posted by: jaumiusk | October 4, 2009 8:31 PM | Report abuse

There were times this season when I thought it was just too dang hard to be a Nats fan. Then on the day of the last home game of the season, I just had to slip out of the office, head to S. Capitol Street, and see the boys one last time. I love this team. Games like today -- this week, in fact -- justify that. So may we all return in a few months better than we are tonight. And may we have a Gold Glove winner in our company too.

Posted by: Baldino | October 4, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

Chico,
Thanks for your gut wrenching thoughts and very insightful comments. We'll be back but on the other side of the aisle, 105 to 106. Pretty tired of ten beer vendors trying to sell beer to 20 folks and blocking out the pitcher and homeplate.

Posted by: navboss | October 4, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Bravo Zulu Chico for a job well done.

Somehow I get the feeling that RyanZ will come in second in the voting for Gold Glove, as he did for Rookie of the Year.

Posted by: Juan-John | October 4, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

When Kensing got that third strike call to end the game I turned to my wife and said, "and now the depression sets in". Although it will take a few days to hit me, once again the greatest game of them all quitely slips into its long winter slumber. Oh yes there are the playoffs and the World Series but thats for other teams & towns to celebrate.For those of us who believe in NatsTown what ended today is only the invitation that keeps you coming back, its the strangest of feelings but its what makes one feel complete.
The diffence between baseball and any other sport is the drumbeat of playing 162 in 180 days. There's no time for incessant blabber, woulda, coulda, and shoulda, what happened yesterday gets wiped away in a few short hours which always translates into hope. Thanks Chico and fellow posters on NJ, let the "hot stove" begin.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | October 4, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

it's like childbirth. the little joys (ike this past week) somehow make you forget the pain.

Posted by: NatsNut | October 4, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

I too am in kind of a depression. I now have my mind on the start of spring training. Sure, lots of off-season stuff to fill the time and lots of building hope and rationalizing and reading all of the armchair GM comments. But the fact is, until April 2010, Nationals Park will be silent and I will greatly miss our home-town Nats! Maybe not a great season nor a great team by W-L standards, but I love our team! Here's to next year and all of the hope and excitement that the new season will bring! Thanks for all of the posts and insights Chico and NJ experts! Please keep us in the loop during the off-season!

Posted by: NickfromGermantown | October 4, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Chico wrote: "We're better for having seen it."

No, Chico, we're better for having you. You began the year in ST talking about your rented Prius, and I ended up buying one in the Cash-for-Clunkers.
You kept us informed, entertained and left us with a smile on our faces.
The winter is going to seem a lot shorter knowing you and the boys will be back in 2010. I hope Riggs gets the job permanently. He didn't allow these guys to quit, and he should be rewarded. He's as good a manager as we're going to find, or need. Best of the offseason to all the NJers, you guys and ladies are the best.
And one last time, "The bourbon and Maalox are on me! Drink heartily."

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | October 4, 2009 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Mark my words, these boys from Syracuse will be back ... and hopefully things will be different.

Posted by: periculum | October 4, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Many things I should have been doing today, but I got hooked on the Nats game, and had to see it through. Tigers and Twins played "meaningful" games, but this was the one I cared about.

I have a whole offseason to get all that other stuff done, and the Nats have some work to do too. How long til pitchers and catchers?

Posted by: KenNat | October 4, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Chico and everyone else who has been so insightful and fun to read in this discussion group. It's been so nice to finally find one not overrun by the terminaly juvenille.

Now let's get that Hot Stove lit....

Posted by: InTheCheapSeats | October 4, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

How long til pitchers and catchers?

Posted by: KenNat | October 4, 2009 9:29 PM

***********

spoken like a true fan. i love it.

Posted by: NatsNut | October 4, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I remember reading something back in the early 60s about what it meant to be a fan of a losing team. It went something like "If the Yankees win 100 games, their fans were disappointed 62 times. If the Mets lose 120 games, their fans had 40 thrills." I had 59 thrills and am optimistic that Rizzo and company will bring more in 2010.

Posted by: leetee1955 | October 4, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

"* This was the longest game for the Nats since their exodus from Canada."

It was the longest game Washington has played since September 14, 1971

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE197109142.shtml

Senators 8
Indians 6

A 20 inning epic! Denny McLain came in to pitch the 17th through 20th innings and picked up the win - a mere 6 hours and 15 minutes after the first pitch (... and it was game two of a double-header - ouch!)

Washington only won 4 more games between that day and 2005 :-(

Posted by: Kev29 | October 4, 2009 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for a great season of work, Chico.

I'm looking forward to 2010. Which (fingers crossed) will be my first year as a Nationals season ticket holder - and my first without a Redskins season ticket.

Posted by: Kev29 | October 4, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to you Chico and the the never-say-die NATS for an entertaining and a hustling end of the season w/the 'record'-breaking win streak!! As a longtime Nats'-Senators fan, my enthusiasm for the team has never faded even after I left DC in '62...never to return again from the Philippines!...I look forward to the "Hot Stove" for what I hope/expect will be a fruitful one to fill out the hole/weaknesses in our team...and again look forward to another season full of hope for a a much improved team to reach the playoffs and beyond...remembering that our last WS win was in 1924 and WS in 1933.
GO NATS, we love ya!!! FTeodoro

Posted by: fbacolod29 | October 4, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Uh-oh: Negative Gold Glove News:

¶ SAN DIEGO (AP) _ San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff set an NL single-season record for third basemen with a .990 fielding percentage, committing three errors in 309 total chances.
¶ Kouzmanoff broke the record of .987 by Colorado's Vinny Castilla in 2004.

Who? Vinny Castilla.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | October 4, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

One does not judge infielders only be fielding percentage. Let's remember that the Washington Nationals once had a first baseman named Zeke Bonura. His fielding percentage was just about the same as Nick Johnson. Bonura had a range of wherever his feet were planted when the pitch was thrown. The numbers didn't make him a great fielder. Kouzmanoff simply doesn't make the plays that Z'mn. does.

I want to thank Chico for working hard in a tough spot and never losing perspective. This has been a very interesting year, for all of us.

The good news is that we closed out the year with seven straight wins. The bad news is you can never believe March or September (a quote written with a 154 game schedule).

Even for me, there were times that it was tough following this club. But, hope springs eternal. I did something that I have never done, before. I spent the afternoon coaching some H.S. Fallball. For the first time, I actually found myself checking the score between innings. I'm afraid that this team has actually stolen my heart. Darn, I thought I was above all of that.

Posted by: Catcher50 | October 4, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey Chico!

In another month or so, won't you be back talking Manager and Free agents and winter meetings? Hope so.

Oh and another stat that was mentioned on air today.

Today is first time, since the team moved to DC, That they ended the season on a WINNING NOTE! GOOD OMEN?! LETS HOPE SO!

N A T S --- NATS NATS NATS!

LETS GO NATS!

Posted by: CALSGR8 | October 4, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Chico,
I truly have enjoyed your writings. You made it interesting when the topic was just ho/hum. many thanks.

Posted by: bsballu5 | October 4, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

Chico - thanks for a great season and some excellent writing, storytelling, sob-stories, and head-shakers! You sure stepped
up to tell the tale of a team that makes you go "hmm"!

NJers, thanks for an entertaining and heart-wrenching, breaking, and felt season. There's cause for hope in natstown, and I can't wait to be part of the told-you-so years!

We are a few key pieces from a competitive team but hard to say more real players will make for a more entertaining team!

Love y'all, and happy off-season! Catch you during winter meetings and hot stove time!

Mo_DC

Posted by: mo_dc | October 4, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Chico - thanks for a great season of work - you should be proud of what you have accomplished and hopefully we will be able to read your work again next year - make sure you continue to always throw strikes

Posted by: sjm3091 | October 4, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

I echo the thanks to Chico: He's the man. Keep us posted on dining tips in Fla. for those of us who might get there.

I may be wrong (Gee, that hasn't happened before), but I wouldn't worry about San Diego's Kouzmanoff winning the Gold Glove over Zim. His range is generally acknowledged to be far less, evidenced by many fewer chances.

I hope dearly (if irrationally) that, at this time next year, we're talking about who will start the first playoff game.

And thank goodness, we beat my '63 Nats by two games!

Posted by: nats24 | October 4, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

Yikes, make that 3 games.

Posted by: nats24 | October 4, 2009 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Chico. There weren't too many mornings that my first activity, before coffee, before feeding the dogs, before retrieving the paper off the front walk, was reading the National Journal.

Even when I had been at the game, even when I watched the whole thing on TV (like yesterday)....I wanted to read your comments in the Journal. Thank you for perspective and your hard work.

Posted by: pryorcommitments | October 5, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Spring can't get here fast enough. I long for Viera. Bears have it lucky, they can hibernate til spring.

Posted by: cokedispatch | October 5, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Chico for a great season. And thanks to the Nats for an entertaining season. The needs are clear but so is the fact that they are not that far away from being a good team. Start the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting!

Posted by: Avar | October 5, 2009 7:13 AM | Report abuse

How about Tim Foli as the new manager? Hey, it worked out for the Caps, didn't it?

Posted by: charley42 | October 5, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Ooo, sorry, I mixed up the winning Potomac Nats with the Syracuse Chiefs. I withdraw the Foli nomination.

Posted by: charley42 | October 5, 2009 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Chico--Nice job covering our beloved Nationals. Disappointing to see your editors pushing last-day (and many previous days') coverage to Page D5. The lackluster Redskins get so much prime real estate in the Post, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that Snyder had bought the company.

Posted by: SorenKierkegaard | October 5, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

As a very sporadic poster on NJ (and a refugee from one of the "juvenile" boards, and who intends to contribute more to NJ next season) I add my thanks to Chico for a job well done in his first year. Looking forward to greater things on the field and on the front page of the Sports section next season.

Posted by: mojo6 | October 5, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for a job well done Chico. Keeping this blog moving, writing gamers and seeking the scoops is a tough job these days. The writers of yore would be hard pressed to keep up with your furious pace.

So - how about some notable highlights?

May 02 - Martis' complete game against the Cardinals
June 17 - Lannan shuts down the Yankees
July 1 - Nyger Morgan arrives
July 04 - Adam Dunn's 300th career homer
July 27 - Willingham 2 Grand Slams
Aug 4-5-6 - Sweeping the Marlins
Aug 8 - Randy Johnson's 300th victory
Sept 6 - Zimmerman's walkoff against the Marlins
Sept 30 - Maxwell's walkoff Grand Slam

Come on folks - what else?

Posted by: dand187 | October 5, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Was the Big Unit's 300th win, against the Nationals, really a highlight for the Nats? Everything else in your list is a Nats plus. That really seems like a Nats minus: "Come to DC and get your 300th win! It's the Nationals! It'll be easy!"

Posted by: shepdave2003 | October 5, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and Nyjer Morgan's first name is spelled with a "J." Still. Don't know why people can't get that right, even now.

Posted by: shepdave2003 | October 5, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

> Aug 8 - Randy Johnson's 300th victory

That was in June. Also, opponents' achievements do not make for Nats highlights. If they did, Mike Bacsik's number would be retired now.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | October 5, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Great work this year Chico. Thanks for the hard work. To put it in your native Pittsburgese "Yinz did a great job!"

Posted by: Section505203 | October 5, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

My apologies to Mr. Morgan.

But no, if you are a BASEBALL fan you would recognize witnessing a 300th win as a highlight. It was a highlight, one you will not likely see again for many years to come.

Posted by: dand187 | October 5, 2009 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Chico, thanks for all the hard work and writing this year. It made a rather frustrating on the field season interesting for us here in DC. Keep up the great work.

Posted by: xrvax | October 9, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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