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NEW YORK | The injury to Michael Morse's left hamstring happened several weeks before Saturday, and Morse had gamely fought through it, supplying one of the last sources of forward motion the Nationals' offense had this year.
But when Morse hit his 15th, and probably final, home run of the season on Saturday, his hamstring grabbed, almost like the hind leg of a horse that had given every step it had to give.
Maybe there's something fitting about that - Morse succumbing to an injury in Game 161 of the season, joining the list of the wounded Nationals' hitters who might be able to make a difference for the team's offense. Because with one day left in the season, it looks like the Nationals have just about run out of places to turn.
Jim Riggleman talks with Byron and Phil after the Nats' 7-2 loss to the Mets
Their 7-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday was another struggle to score runs, the opportunities and obstacles both self-made. They left 13 runners on base, went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and let a tight game turn into a decisive loss.
In their last seven games, the Nationals have scored just nine runs and collected only 30 hits. They've won twice in that stretch, and again on Saturday, they looked beaten and beaten down.
"We just really have not swung the bats," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We've pitched OK in a few of those ballgames, and certainly good enough to win some of them, but we're just not cashing in on opportunities, and not even having that many opportunities."
The latter problem was not present on Saturday; the Nationals loaded the bases twice and put two runners on in two other innings. But in the sixth inning, after they'd scored their first run on Morse's homer and followed it with Wilson Ramos' second of three hits, the Nationals had two weak groundouts. Ramos would tie the game in the seventh, ripping a single that hit third base after fighting Elmer Dessens through an 11-pitch at-bat, but Justin Maxwell struck out to end that inning.
Though Riggleman won't use their injuries as an excuse - "The Mets have played without All-Stars," he said - it's silly to ignore the effect they've had on the Nationals' lineup. Ryan Zimmerman has been out all week, and the Nationals rested Adam Dunn on Saturday, limiting him to three innings with a sore hamstring. Josh Willingham is out for the year after knee surgery, and Riggleman said Morse likely will miss the season finale, though the outfielder wouldn't close the door on the possibility of playing on Sunday.
That leaves the Nationals without who would likely be their third through sixth hitters, and for an offense that often isn't deep enough to outslug teams when it's fully healthy, the losses are becoming too much to absorb.
â€¨"I think whenever you've got threats behind you, you always want the next guy to get up," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We're trying to do a little bit too much by ourselves. With one game left, hopefully tomorrow, we can go back to the team game we had going and push a couple across, whether it's bunting, stealing or hitting runs. We've still got to finish it."
There's no reason to think if they were fully healthy, the Nationals would be banging the ball all over the park; they have been a streaky team all year that hasn't been able to grind out enough wins in cold spells, either by working walks or by playing sound station-to-station baseball. They have a .319 on-base percentage, and with two outs and runners in scoring position, they're hitting .235.
But with the season coming to an end, they simply look worn out.
"We've been hot and cold that way all year," Riggleman said. "We're cold. ... We've seen great things, and we've seen times where we're just doing nothing."