WASHINGTON -- Unlike most of the Florida Marlins, Wes Helms has been to the playoffs. So he can't wait for his younger teammates to get a taste of that sort of setting when they travel to face the New York Mets starting Friday.
The Marlins were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday, and their game scheduled for Thursday night against last-place Washington -- the Nationals' final game of the season at their new, $611 million ballpark -- was rained out and will not be made up.
The Nationals end up with a total attendance of a little more than 2.3 million -- an average of 29,025 that ranks in the bottom half of baseball.
For the Marlins, it's on to Shea Stadium to close the regular season, precisely like in 2007, when they took two of three games at the Mets to keep New York out of the playoffs. The Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 7-6 on Thursday night to move within one game of NL East-leading Philadelphia and remain tied for the wild card with Milwaukee, which beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in 10 innings.
Looking ahead while standing in the visitors' clubhouse in Washington, Helms said: "It's not like we're in a city that means nothing, like right now. We're finishing in a top-notch atmosphere."
It began drizzling about 5 hours before the scheduled 7:10 p.m. first pitch Thursday, and the rain grew heavier. The tarp stayed on the field, and the game was called after a delay of 2 hours, 5 minutes.
The forecast in New York this weekend calls for rain, which could play havoc not only with the schedule for Marlins-Mets, but also affect the NL East and wild-card races.
A game pushed to Monday?
"I would think we could play up until Tuesday or Wednesday," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Sanchez's turn will be skipped and he'll go into the bullpen, meaning Florida's starting pitchers will remain as planned for the Mets series: Chris Volstad (5-4), Ricky Nolasco (15-7) and Scott Olsen (8-11).
"We want to keep those guys together," Gonzalez said.
If wet weather makes for "one of those stop-and-start, stop-and-start" games Friday, then Sanchez could get the call to come in.
Gonzalez already had said Wednesday he plans to use his regulars against the Mets "for the integrity of the game and for the way you should play the game. That's the only way to do it. Like we did last year."
Ah, yes, last year. Olsen remembers what it was like to play a part in the Mets' historic collapse -- New York wasted a seven-game lead over Philadelphia in the final 17 games.
"It was fun hearing 55,000 people not say a word. That was fun," Olsen said. "That silence was golden."
Like Helms, Gonzalez is looking forward to what awaits.
"We've all been watching the (Mets') games here (on TV). For us, it's going to be a playoff-type atmosphere, it really is," Gonzalez said. "We're not going to be in the playoffs, but that's going to be as close as we're going to get this season."
For the Nationals, the cancellation put a damper on "Fan Appreciation Day." When the game was called off, about 500 fans stood near the home dugout and caught T-shirts tossed into the stands. The spectators applauded when manager Manny Acta took a microphone and thanked them "for all your support and patience in 2008."
His team's loss total remained at 99, with three games to go.
"It's just weird," Acta said of the rainout. "Not really the way we wanted to finish at home."
Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman (flu) would have sat out a second consecutive game. Acta expects Zimmerman to play in Philadelphia. ... There was one other rainout at Nationals Park in 2008 -- on June 4 against St. Louis. ... The Nationals' rotation against the Phillies will be Balester on Friday, followed by John Lannan and Odalis Perez.