WASHINGTON – Washington’s Yan Gomes, with two outs in the last of the ninth, hit a lazy pop-up to right field and ran slowly down to first base as the ball was caught by University of Virginia alum Adam Haseley to end the game.
Bob Henley, the first-base coach for the Nationals, clapped his hands in resignation while third-base coach Chip Hale jogged slowly across the infield to the Nationals’ dugout.
As the Phillies congratulated themselves, the Nationals quietly retreated to the clubhouse as the grounds crew prepared the field for the upcoming series with the New York Mets – though those games will now mean little to the D.C. nine.
The Nationals, some 11 months after winning the World Series in Houston, saw their dreams of an improbable repeat all but come to an end on the brink of playoff elimination following a 12-3 loss to the rival Philadelphia Phillies here on Wednesday.
With the postseason almost officially out of reach, the Nationals to repeat as champions.
The last team to do it is the New York Yankees, who won three in a row in 1998, ‘99, and 2000.
“As you know, it is difficult” to repeat as champions, manager Dave Martinez said after the game. “I’m really excited about the future of this organization. We will be back.”
This was a challenging season for every team in light of strict protocols due to the pandemic. Some teams had dissension – see Cleveland – as a few players didn’t follow guidelines for off-the-field standards.
The Nationals also had their fair share of injuries, while several veterans saw a drop-off in their production. Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross decided to opt of the season, while newcomer Eric Thames didn’t provide the punch needed to take some of the pressure off of star Juan Soto.
“It was definitely a challenge,” said Martinez, who added earlier in the day he wants to return as manager. “I do like our potential for 2021.”
Born in New York and raised in Florida, the former Major League first baseman/outfielder is confident the Nationals can challenge for a playoff spot next year.
The defending champions fell to 12-17 this season at Nationals Park, their home since 2008 that was not able to welcome fans for a victory lap to celebrate the 2019 crown.
Among the few sounds at the Navy Yard this night emanated from the third-base dugout of the Phillies, desperate for a win to get back into the playoff conversation. The visitors were buoyed by five homers, with two coming from DH Bryce Harper (remember him?), as they managed to salvage one of four games in the series.
As much as the Nats tried to create a memorable atmosphere, with the fan-favorite “Take on Me” playing in the last of the seventh, the on-field performance wasn’t up to normal standards Wednesday or most of the abbreviated 60-game season.
The loss here Wednesday – on a night meant for a full house of fans – came exactly a year to the day that the Nationals beat the Phillies at Nationals Park.
Washington, in a playoff tuneup in 2019, hit three homers: by Adam Eaton, Yan Gomes, and Trea Turner. All of those homers came against Zach Eflin – who turned the tables by allowing just one run on four hits in eight innings here Wednesday.
Another touch of irony: Nats’ pitcher Ryne Harper gave an intentional walk to Bryce Harper (no relation) in the top of the ninth.
The Phillies’ Harper reached base in every trip to the plate on a night his former team most likely saw its playoff dream end.
Perhaps in a fitting end, position player Brock Holt of the Nationals was called on to pitch with two outs in the top of the ninth with the Phillies leading 12-1.
And as the Nats begin to turn the page on this season, they are doing so without several veterans.
Among the injured are World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, who pitched in just two games; NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick; second baseman Starlin Castro and third baseman Carter Kieboom, who was given the starting job in Spring Training after Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent. But Kieboom’s season ended earlier Wednesday as he went on the 10-day Injured List after getting hit in the hand by a pitch this week.
Eaton is out for the year with an injury while Turner was a late scratch from the starting lineup on Wednesday. Martinez wanted to give Turner a night off and hopes he can play Thursday against the Mets.
The Nationals lost 103 games in 2009 before a gradual upgrade to World Series status. Now perhaps a new transformation needs to take place going into 2021.
With the loss Wednesday, the Nationals fell to 23-33 this season. Few teams in the majors have a worse record and even the Miami Marlins, perennial last-place finishers in the same National League East, began the day with five more wins than the Nationals.
Washington, with the regular-season finale Sunday at home against the Mets, is also likely to finish with one of the worst won-loss percentages of any defending champion.
Perhaps one bright spot was pitcher Erick Fedde, who gave up three runs in seven innings.
“Obviously, he is pitching with a lot of confidence,” said Martinez, who hopes the Las Vegas product can be the No. 5 starter in 2021. “It’s huge, especially for him. He attacked the strike zone.”