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Nationals carry on, hope to learn after NLDS loss

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:06 p.m.
Nationals closer Drew Storen looks on from the dugout after Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals early Saturday, Oct 13, 2012, in Washington. (AP)

WASHINGTON — For their first seven years, filled with on-field losses and off-field gaffes, the Washington Nationals merely existed, barely mattered.

That's why so much that happened in 2012 felt new and significant to them. All the regular-season wins — a best-in-baseball 98 — and the NL East title, the postseason highs and lows, the intense attention to the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in September.

And when it ended, in as difficult-to-digest a way as possible, the soft voices in the quiet Nationals clubhouse kept repeating the same word in the wee hours Saturday, saying they would “learn” from what happened.

Learn from what for nearly every member of a young roster was a debut trip to the playoffs. Learn from a 9-7 loss to the defending World Series champion Cardinals in Game 5 of their NL Division Series — a game Washington led, 6-0, early, then 7-5 with two outs in the ninth inning.

So close yet so far.

Manager Davey Johnson: “We proved our worth, and we just need to let this be a lesson and ... learn from it, have more resolve, come back and carry it a lot farther.”

Closer Drew Storen, who five times threw a pitch while one strike from a victory but each was called a ball: “It's the best job when you're good at it. It's the worst job when you fail. Just got to learn from it.”

General manager Mike Rizzo: “Just knowing the character and the makeup of the core guys in this clubhouse, I think we'll use it as a learning tool, as a learning experience, and have a burning desire for it never to happen again. I think in the long run, it'll be something that we look back on and say, ‘It was an experience, it was a tough experience, but it's one that makes you grow.' ”

With Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann in the rotation and Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond in the lineup, the Nationals still like the way they've set themselves up.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘When you look back at years of losing, you just smile because, when it gets to the winning, it's awful sweet.' I think we've reached that stage,” said Mark Lerner, son of Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner.

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