Francisco Rodriguez is one of baseball's most reliable relief pitchers, saving 262 games in his career. This game-ending play was unique.
The Washington Nationals had rallied for two runs in the ninth inning and had the potential tying run on base with two outs when Rodriguez picked off Roger Bernadina at second for the final out of the New York Mets' 5-3 victory Friday night.
Bernadina's careless baserunning, which turned into a colossal blunder, was spotted by 20-year-old rookie shortstop Ruben Tejada, playing there only because Jose Reyes missed his third straight game with a stiff back.
Tejada signaled to Rodriguez, and K-Rod fired the ball to second to nab Bernadina, allowing Jonathon Niese to win his fifth straight decision and New York manager Jerry Manuel to breath a little easier.
"I was hiding at that time. I didn't see anything," Manuel said. "I looked up and they came running off the field, and I said, 'Oh, we must have won.'"
For Tejada, the play showed the smart thinking of a veteran.
"3-2 count, two outs. The runner never thinks pickoff," Tejada said.
Rodriguez had come into the game with one out and runners on second and third. He allowed singles to Bernadina and Ian Desmond to score two runs, and with Willie Harris at the plate, he wasn't thinking pickoff.
"I was thinking about getting the hitter out. It crosses the mind (not to) throw the ball into center field and throw more gasoline into the fire," Rodriguez said.
Bernadina didn't duck responsibility for the snafu.
"I was late. That's all I can say there. I was late. That's no excuse," Bernadina said.
Niese (6-2) allowed six hits and one run in seven innings as he improved to 5-0 with a 2.43 ERA in six starts since coming off the disabled list June 5. He fanned eight in his first four innings — striking out the side in the fourth — and didn't walk a batter.
To top it off, Niese added his first career RBI on a double in a four-run fourth.
David Wright, who batted .404 in June, had three hits and Alex Cora a three-run triple for the Mets, who stayed two games behind NL East-leading Atlanta.
Josh Willingham homered off Niese in the seventh for Washington's first run.
The Mets chased Luis Atilano (6-5) in the fourth.
In the first, Tejada was hit by a pitch, moved to third on Wright's single up the middle and scored on Ike Davis' infield out.
Atilano loaded the bases in the fourth on Wright's double and two walks. He got Rod Barajas on a short fly to center and Jeff Francoeur on a liner to shortstop before Cora tripled off the right-field wall to clear the bases. Cora scored on Niese's double.
Bobby Parnell worked a scoreless eighth. Pedro Feliciano struck out the only batter he faced in the ninth and Elmer Dessens got one out before Rodriguez picked off Bernadina, with a smart tag by Tejada, for his 19th save.
While the Mets are 25-12 since May 22, the Nationals reached the halfway point heading south. They're 35-46, which projects to 92 losses — far better than the two straight 100-plus loss seasons they've endured, but they're 15-31 since May 15.
Atilano allowed all five New York runs and five hits in 3 2-3 innings.
NOTES » Reyes missed his third consecutive game with a stiff back, and will be out until at least Sunday. "I have to take care of this and see what happens in the next couple of days," Reyes said. ... New York 2B Luis Castillo (bruised right heel), who's missed a month, will soon play a rehab game. "I think Luis is to start playing sometime next week," Manuel said. ... New York signed ex-Nationals RHP Brian Bruney to a minor league contract. ... A Nationals spokesman declined comment on a report that the team had agreed to a minor league contract with 44-year-old RHP Orlando Hernandez. But his half brother, Nationals RHP Livan Hernandez, said El Duque, who last pitched in the majors in 2007 for the Mets, had signed. "He's in better shape than anybody in baseball. It's unbelievable," Livan Hernandez said. ... Desmond committed his major league-leading 20th error at shortstop. ... Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said there are no definite plans for RHP Chien-Ming Wang to pitch in a game. Wang, who has missed nearly a year after shoulder surgery last season, was signed as a free agent by Washington in February. "We're going without a road map," Rizzo said. ... Attorney General Eric Holder threw out the first pitch.