WASHINGTON (AP) — Nationals manager Matt Williams sounded very much like someone living in denial, unwilling to directly address questions about his highly touted club’s elimination from playoff contention.
Williams gritted his teeth, chewed his gum, and said things such as “We’ve got games to play” and “We’ve got to win tomorrow” and “Tonight is a good night for everybody; everybody played well; I want them to enjoy that and we’ll get ready for tomorrow.”
Even if tomorrow doesn’t really mean anything anymore to the 2015 Washington Nationals?
A season that started with so many soaring expectations crashed with a dreary thud in Game 154 of 162 for the Nationals, whose 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Bryce Harper’s RBI double in the 12th inning Saturday night came less than an hour after the New York Mets also won and clinched the NL East title.
“I’m more surprised than anything else, I think. I never thought we’d end up here. Obviously, we’ve underachieved,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “We haven’t played well. … I would’ve never thought we’d be sitting here, having this conversation, with seven or eight games left. Would’ve bet the other way.”
Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 for Washington, NL MVP front-runner Harper had three hits and drew his franchise-record-tying 123rd walk — and, like whatever else went right this year for a team many considered a World Series favorite, none of it mattered.
While the Phillies-Nationals game was in the top of the 11th, the Mets finished beating the Cincinnati Reds 10-2. Washington (79-75) can’t possibly pass New York (88-67) in the standings, and already was out of the wild-card race.
“It just didn’t work out this year,” Strasburg said.
The Phillies (58-97) own the worst record in the majors.
“Really important to know what we can do in September and the beginning of October,” said Phillies starter Aaron Nola, a rookie. “Some of us haven’t even played this long. It’s a good experience for us.”
With rain falling and the stands nearly empty at the end, Harper delivered a double to right off Colton Murray (0-1) to bring Anthony Rendon home. Matt Thornton (2-1) got two outs for the win.
Harper ended a four-game hitless skid — twice as long as any previous drought all season — by singling in the fourth. That was the first of three consecutive singles that loaded the bases with no outs, but the Nationals failed to score there.
Washington went ahead 1-0 in the sixth. Harper walked, took second and third on a pair of wild pitches by reliever Adam Loewen and scored on Ian Desmond’s groundout.
As fantastic as Harper has been, fulfilling the promise that made him a no-doubt-about-it No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010, his numbers were not enough to make up for all sorts of other problems.
The bullpen blew lead after lead down the stretch. Thanks to injuries, the intended everyday lineup was together for a grand total of two games. The starting rotation never lived up to its billing, despite occasional brilliance from Max Scherzer or Strasburg.
This was supposed to be a club that would make up for first-round playoff exits in 2012 and 2014. Instead, the Nationals sputtered in the second half and let the Mets pull away.
“It’s tough to play,” Werth said in a nearly empty home clubhouse, “when you really don’t have anything to play for.”
Phillies: Nola was lifted for a pinch hitter after throwing only 67 pitches in five scoreless innings.
Nationals: Strasburg turned in his fourth game in a row with at least 10 Ks and one walk. He allowed one run and three hits in eight innings and was perfect until the fifth. “The lefties were getting some nasty changeups,” Desmond said. “I mean, disgusting.”
Nationals: CF Michael A. Taylor was out of the starting lineup with a bothersome knee and hamstring. … OF Reed Johnson was reinstated from the 60-day DL; CF Denard Span moved from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL.
On Sunday, Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.49 ERA) — coming off a season-high 12 strikeouts in his previous start — faces Phillies RHP Aaron Harang (6-15, 4.93).
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