K-Rod can't shut door; Mets stunned
Nationals score five runs in bottom of the ninth off closer
WASHINGTON -- The Mets have suffered through a season filled with a laundry list of bad breaks and cruel twists of fate. But just when it seemed like nothing could get worse, the gods of baseball handed the Mets another painful shot Wednesday night.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez blew a two-run lead as the Nationals completed a 7-4 walk-off victory over the Mets when Justin Maxwell hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the ninth before 23,944 at Nationals Park. Rodriguez gave up five runs in the inning as Washington swept the three-game series in its home finale.
"[It's] a tough, tough year, basically," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "It's difficult in this type of season to take solace in anything at this point. Just the way things have gone for us, it's been tough, been real tough. We hope to get through and regroup. That's what we've got to do."
This was the second successive game in which the Mets (67-92) blew an early lead. They took a 2-0 lead in the second and stretched it to 3-1 in the sixth and 4-2 in the ninth. But everything fell apart in the bottom of the inning in their final road game.
Alberto Gonzalez started the ninth by reaching on an infield single, beating out Wilson Valdez's throw from deep in the hole. That seemed to spark the Nationals (55-103), as pinch-hitter Mike Morse singled to center. Jorge Padilla ran for him, and both runners moved up on a Willie Harris sacrifice bunt.
Rodriguez (3-6) then walked Elijah Dukes to load the bases before striking out Ryan Zimmerman. Adam Dunn followed with a walk to force in a run and make it 4-3. Maxwell then battled Rodriguez through a tense nine-pitch at-bat, hitting his slam to left on a 3-2 pitch.
Rodriguez, who gave up a walk-off grand slam to the Padres' Everth Cabrera on Aug. 7, became the first pitcher since Lee Smith in 1995 to allow two game-ending grand slams in the same season, according to The Associated Press, which cited STATS as its source.
"All the fans that were watching that poor effort that I [gave] out there, I just apologize. I was really embarrassed," Rodriguez said. "You just got to make one pitch, and I have plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to make just one, and unfortunately, I didn't. It was really embarrassing."
Rodriguez threw 37 pitches in his two-thirds of an inning.
Maxwell did a good job of staying in there against Rodriguez, eventually catching up to his 92-mph fastball and sending it into the seats.
"We all had good at-bats," Maxwell said. "I was trying to put the ball in play and give us in chance. I know Frankie has good stuff. I just had to put it in play. It worked out for a grand slam. That was the first time I ever faced him."
The loss wasted a solid start from Tim Redding, who gave up just one run on four hits in six innings against his former team, retiring the first 10 batters he faced. Redding was dealing with the beginning of a blister, and Manuel pinch-hit for him in the top of the seventh, when the Mets got a rally going.
Redding finished the season with a 3-6 record, pitching much better in the second half. Manuel liked what he saw, and Redding said he's hoping to do it again in 2010.
"The last eight, 10 weeks have been enjoyable for myself, pitching like I know I'm capable of throwing," Redding said. "Hopefully it's enough to warrant a second chance to come back here next year to help resurrect the season. I think I gave this team a pretty good chance to win most times out there."
The Mets couldn't do much on offense against Nationals starter John Lannan, who nearly matched Redding with a strong seven-inning effort of his own. Carlos Beltran walked to start the second inning and went to third on a Jeff Francoeur double to left, which the umpires reviewed to see if it was a home run.
They upheld the call as a double, and Fernando Tatis followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0. Omir Santos then added an RBI single for the early 2-0 lead. Redding gave up his only run in the fifth, but two Nationals errors helped Beltran come up with two on and two outs in the sixth. He then singled for a 3-1 lead.
Zimmerman homered off Bobby Parnell in the eighth to make it 3-2.
Santos gave the Mets some insurance with an RBI single in the ninth that let Rodriguez come in with the two-run lead. Ron Villone (5-6) finished the top of the ninth and got the victory.
When asked if he was embarrassed to lose three straight games to the Nationals, Manuel didn't hesitate with his answer.
"We're just not a good team right now," Manuel said. "We're not playing good baseball, despite who we play."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.