WASHINGTON -- Frank Robinson emerged from the dugout more than 10 minutes after his final game as a major league manager and walked across the grass behind home plate.
Thousands of spectators stood, applauded and shouted good wishes, including yells of, "We love you!" The Hall of Famer smiled and waved, then doffed his cap and put his large right hand over his heart.
Sunday's farewell was the sort Robinson wanted when he asked the Washington Nationals to let him know before season's end whether he'd be back in 2007. Instead of the usual day-after-the-last-game announcement, the Nationals made what seemed clear would happen completely official before Saturday's game, allowing Robinson, his players and his fans to treat his last weekend as a tribute.
"I'm numb right now," Robinson said, shortly after stepping off the field. "Just soaked it in. I wasn't thinking about any one particular thing. Just trying to absorb the moment."
And what stood out the most?
"What a lousy game," Robinson growled.
And then he smiled, making sure everyone in the room realized he was kidding.
A 20-minute pregame ceremony in his honor delayed the first pitch of what would turn out to be a 6-2 loss by his last-place Nationals (71-91) to the NL East champion New York Mets (96-66).
"Nothing takes anything away from the moment," Robinson said. "In about 10, 15, 20 years, my memory will be we won the game, anyway. No-hitter. Home run in the bottom of the ninth to win a nothing-nothing ballgame."
Well, for the record: David Wright and Shawn Green each had two hits in the second inning, when the playoff-bound Mets scored six runs on nine hits, New York's season high for an inning. Guillermo Mota (3-0) pitched a perfect eighth and was credited with the win.
"It's nice to finish up strong and get a nice little streak over the weekend," said Mets manager Willie Randolph, whose team has won four consecutive games.
"We're going into the real season, and I'm excited about it, looking forward to it. It's what you play for."
The Mets will start the playoffs at home, taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 Wednesday.
Ramon Ortiz (11-16) left what might have been his final appearance for the Nationals after getting only four outs -- his shortest start of the season. That meant Robinson made one last deliberate walk to the mound to yank an ineffective pitcher.
There were plenty of "lasts" for Robinson, who said he'd like to stay in baseball after more than half a century. He hit 586 homers as a player and was the first black manager in the majors.
"I can leave baseball as far as this is concerned," Robinson said, tugging at his red jersey, "but I feel I have something to offer as far as baseball itself."
Earlier in the day, he told reporters: "I'm not going to manage, but I'm not retiring."
And during his 10-minute pregame address, Robinson said: "There's a lot of things I want to try to accomplish for others that are going to come after me. There's a lot of other things in baseball, I think, that can be done much more politically correct. I'm looking for opportunities for people that are qualified to fill positions in different organizations in baseball."
As the speech went on, Robinson kept using the phrase "In closing ..." -- then kept right on speaking. Who could blame him?
"I've never done anything harder than I have to do right now," Robinson said, his voice cracking, "and that's to say, 'Goodbye."'
When he relinquished the microphone, he was engulfed by players and staff from his Nationals, of course, but also from the Mets, who all left their dugout to greet Robinson with hugs and slaps on the back.
"Frank has been a great ambassador for baseball, a great individual, a great superstar in the game," New York's Julio Franco said. "Baseball's going to miss him."
The game might also have marked free-agent-to-be Alfonso Soriano's last game in a Washington uniform. After he trotted out to left field in the top of the fourth, Robinson sent out a sub, so the fourth member of baseball's 40-40 club could jog off to a standing ovation -- quite a contrast from the spring training days of "Will he or won't he switch from second base to left field?"
As usual, Robinson watched the game while perched against the green dugout railing, his arms crossed on a white towel. There was a point when everyone else moved away, perhaps a collective effort to give the man a few moments alone.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Soriano said, "as a manager and person, too."
- Mets OF Cliff Floyd (left Achilles' heel) played for the first time since Tuesday and hit leadoff to get extra at-bats.
- Randolph said he'll decide Monday on a lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs.