Nats disappointed but already looking ahead to next year

Nats disappointed but already looking ahead to next year

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals owner Mark Lerner circled through the silent visitors' clubhouse at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, stopping each player he came across to say a few quiet words. General manager Mike Rizzo did the same.

A few moments earlier, the Giants had eliminated the team with the National League's best record from their NL Division Series with a 3-2 decision in Game 4. This was not how the Nats had envisioned their season ending. Even after shortstop Ian Desmond was called out on a checked-swing third strike leading off the top of the ninth, a call he strongly disagreed with, he made sure not to say anything to home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt that would get him ejected.

"I took my helmet off, and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Don't get thrown out of this game, because we're going to tie it up and they're going to need me,'" said Desmond. "It's a testament to this team that that popped into my head at that moment. You can't fake that. We believed in each other all year long."

  Date Time Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 3   SF 3, WAS 2 video
Gm 2 Oct. 4   SF 2, WAS 1 (18 inn.) video
Gm 3 Oct. 6   WAS 4, SF 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 7   SF 3, WAS 2 video

Except the Nationals didn't tie the score. Two outs later, the Giants were dancing across the field, celebrating a return trip to the NL Championship Series. The Nats could do nothing but tip their caps and wonder what might have been.

Left fielder Bryce Harper figuratively tipped his cap to the four Giants starters -- Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong -- who combined for a 1.04 ERA.

"There's nothing you can say," said Harper. "Huddy came in and dealt. Peavy came in and dealt. Vogelsong came in and dealt. Madison dealt. Those guys have been here. They've done things in their careers a lot of people haven't done. They've pitched in the postseason. They know how to go about their business out there."

The Nationals batted .164 as a team, scoring nine runs (eight earned) in 45 innings. Each of their three losses was by one run.

"The difference was just small things," said closer Drew Storen. "High-pressure situations and two really good teams, it doesn't take a lot. They're a good ballclub, too. It's a matter of inches, and what makes postseason baseball so exciting is that there's not a lot of margin for error. It wasn't a lack of effort or anything like that. Things just didn't work out."

Added reliever Jerry Blevins: "That's baseball. The Giants are a really good team. They know how to win."

"They outplayed us," said first baseman Adam LaRoche.

At the same time, the Nationals didn't hide their disappointment. They expected more from themselves, but the Nats still think their organization has a bright future.

"We put ourselves in a position to be here, and there are a lot of teams that can't say that," LaRoche said. "It hurts to get knocked out again. We just didn't hit, and it's hard to win games that way. They've got pitchers. They didn't get here by not pitching, but it's guys we can get to and we didn't. Timing was off, a couple bad breaks, and I felt like we hit some balls hard and didn't get anything out of them."

"This is tough. This is tough. This is tough," added center fielder Denard Span. "All of us worked hard this season. To come up short, the way we played, it's tough. We didn't play good all series, bottom line. They made the least amount of mistakes. We made too many mistakes. Too many little things added up and they were a better team for these four games."

Ryan Zimmerman is the original face of the Nationals' franchise, but he was limited to pinch-hitting after missing much of the regular season with thumb and hamstring injuries.

"We were one of the best teams in September," said Zimmerman. "We just didn't get enough hits to win. I think winning the division two out of three years is pretty good. I don't think people should lose sight of that.

"It's not easy to win in the postseason. Obviously our goal, like everyone, is to win the World Series, but I think we've got a lot to be proud of and I think the future is still very bright for this team."

Span is already looking ahead.

"The first step is to get there, and we've done that two of the last three years," Span said. "We've got a lot of talent, a lot of good ballplayers in here, a lot of good ballplayers who are under contract and coming back. The window isn't closed, but it is closing. It's important for us to move past this and go to Spring Training ready to go."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.