WASHINGTON -- Just when the Washington Nationals were showing signs of success and stability, and just as the players were starting to talk about the growing respect for the franchise around the league, along came the surprise announcement that manager Jim Riggleman was quitting because he wasn't happy with his contract.
The Nationals completed a sweep of the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon, winning 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth on Laynce Nix's sacrifice fly. They have won 11 of 12 and have moved above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2005.
But no one was talking about Jason Marquis' awesome slider after general manager Mike Rizzo delivered the news to the players in the clubhouse after the game.
"Very unexpected," Marquis said. "Obviously we're playing some good baseball. Obviously he was leading the ship, and things were moving along real well."
Riggleman resigned because the Nationals wouldn't pick up next year's option on his contract. The players didn't have an inkling that such a thing was brewing. Jayson Werth tried to make it sound as if it didn't matter.
"It's not going to change anything in here," Werth said. "We're the ones that have been making the pitches and hitting the balls and winning the ballgames, so we're going to keep going."
The players boarded the buses to catch a flight not knowing who will manage their upcoming road series against the Chicago White Sox. Riggleman's move caught the front office off-guard, so Rizzo said he'll wait until Friday to announce an interim manager.
"We feel we're going in the right direction," Rizzo said. "We continue to feel that way."
Riggleman had given Rizzo a heads-up on his plans before the game, but the manager said it didn't affect him while on the bench. It seems nothing these days can slow down the Nationals once they take the field.
The three victories over the Mariners were all one-run affairs that included a five-run rally in the ninth on Tuesday, a 2-1 win Wednesday in which both runs were unearned and Thursday's tense battle dominated early by starters Marquis and Michael Pineda.
Marquis allowed three hits over eight innings with three walks and four strikeouts, while Pineda gave up four hits over seven innings with nine strikeouts and one walk.
But both were gone when the game was decided. Michael Morse opened the ninth with a single to left, and Danny Espinosa followed by dragging a bunt for a single. Ivan Rodriguez bunted to move the runners over, but first baseman Adam Kennedy threw late to third to try to get the lead runner, leaving the bases loaded with none out.
Shortstop Jack Wilson kept Seattle alive by making a diving backhand stop on a grounder by Jerry Hairston Jr. with the infield in and then throwing from his knees to force pinch runner Brian Bixler at the plate.
The loss put Seattle (37-38) below .500 for the first time since May 25.
"We had three tough days here," manager Eric Wedge said. "Our starting pitching was fantastic. Theirs was good, too, obviously. We had opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them."
Tyler Clippard (1-0) pitched the ninth for the Nationals, who treated their return to .500 on Wednesday as a milestone event, the result of a climb from a nine-games-under hole in just two weeks.
But, as Riggleman said before Thursday's game: "We're not striving to be .500; we've got to raise the bar."
Now he won't be around any longer to help them do it.
The Mariners' usual hitters couldn't solve Marquis, so it was left to an American League pitcher getting a rare interleague at-bat to break up a prospective no-hitter. Pineda hit a weak bloop to center for his first career hit with one out in the sixth. ... Washington has won nine straight vs. Seattle and is unbeaten against the Mariners since moving to the nation's capital in 2005. ... The Mariners return home for some away games starting Friday. Their three-game series against the Florida Marlins was moved to Seattle because Sun Life Stadium is preparing for a U2 concert. Florida will remain the home team and will bat last, and the series will be played under NL rules, without a designated hitter. "Being a visiting team in your home ballpark, that'll be a different feel," Wedge said.