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The sounds inside the home clubhouse at Nationals Park on Wednesday night were somewhat like the ones after any other loss, but they were enhanced by the finality of a group knowing it has shared that clubhouse together for the last time.
Packing tape squealed as it stretched across cardboard boxes, as players cleaned out their lockers. From the showers came the sound of one player singing the chorus to "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie." Players said goodbye to clubhouse attendants, PR officials and injured teammates not traveling to the season's final series in New York. And a team that has gotten fairly used to losses took this one with a slight twist of melancholy.
The Nationals' 7-1 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday night wasn't so much about the game itself; after all, the Phillies' lineup had about as many of its usual members as Van Halen's current touring lineup. Rather, it was a milepost gone by for a team that, by the time it reassembles in this room next March, will likely look very different.
Jim Riggleman meets with the media following the Nats' 7-1 loss to the Phillies
First baseman Adam Dunn, who will become a free agent after the season, got a lengthy ovation before his final at-bat and smaller gestures of appreciation before his first three. On Tuesday, he shrugged off the notion of being emotional before what could be his final home game in Washington, but sometime before Wednesday's game, sentiment got to the slugger, and hearing the cheers, "I tried to hit every ball as far as I possibly could.
"That's the first time in a long time I've had that feeling of, I wouldn't call it nerves, but I'd call them jitters," said Dunn, who struck out in all four of his at-bats. "It's a pretty cool feeling."
Handfuls of Dunn's teammates have expressed their support for him to stay with the team in the last few days, few more vocal than third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who hits in front of the slugger in the order, lockers next to him, plays with his son Brady and calls him a friend.
"It'd be frustrating," Zimmerman said, sounding almost resigned to Dunn's departure. "If you lose him, you lose a big piece of a lot. It's hard to find a No. 4 hitter like that, and obviously, he does a lot in here that you guys and the fans don't get to see. He's a good teammate. For them to let him go, it's going to be hard to replace him. You go out and try to find a guy like that, it's not only hard, but it's going to be really expensive. He wants to stay here, and I think everyone wants him to stay here. It's just going to be a matter of, if they can work something out."
But Dunn's contract status is only one of a handful of issues facing the Nationals this offseason. They could restructure a lineup that needs to get more runners on base at the top of the order, and might have to deal away several young players in their pursuit of a top-end starter.
And of course, there is the reality in sports that from year to year, no team looks exactly the same - especially teams that head into the final week of the season with 67 wins.
So the Nationals began the process of saying their goodbyes on Wednesday night, taking one more trip to New York before the big machine starts churning. That they were soundly beat by the Phillies at home, ultimately, was not the issue. That they couldn't begin to part ways with a few more smiles was.
"We certainly would have liked to have won the ballgame, that's for sure," manager Jim Riggleman said. "The fans have come out and been so energetic and positive for us. ... The number of fans that come out is going to double here and triple here when we really get it going. We want that to happen sooner than later for the ones who are here now, the ones who are here through the tough times."