The Washington Nationals knew that when they started this 10-game road trip Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, clearly they needed to win at least seven out 10. Well last night they dropped the opener of the three-game series in Philly by the score of 3-2.
The Nationals fell 7.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the race for the second wild card spot. With 25 games remaining in the 2013 season, they will have to go 21-4 to reach the 90-win mark or at the very least 19-6 to get to 88 wins, which still might do the trick.
The Nationals want to play meaningful baseball in September, but losing games like last night it very hard to make up ground.
Let’s take a moment to see where things went wrong last night for Washington.
Monday night the humidity was more like playing baseball in a Brazilian rain forest than in South Philly. Two of baseball’s top young pitchers, Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels, were amazing. The two matched each other pitch for pitch for the better part of the game’s first six innings, but both were removed by the eighth with Strasburg departing after six at 100 pitches and Hamels leaving after seven due heat exhaustion.
Both pitchers allowed just two hits and one run, though Strasburg’s was unearned. Strasburg, who reached a new career-high in innings at 164, walked two; Hamels walked none. The Nationals’ ace struck out 10, Hamels eight. The Phillies’ lefty allowed one home run, to Ryan Zimmerman, in the first inning. Then he finished his night keeping 12 straight Nationals from reaching base.
The Nationals took the lead 2-1 in the top of the eighth when they loaded the bases and Scott Hairston sent a sacrifice fly to shallow center and Anthony Rendon beat the throw. The Nationals were unable to plate anymore runners so they entered the bottom of the eighth inning leading 2-1 with the bullpen set to close things out.
Enter Tyler Clippard, the most consistent relief pitcher the Nationals have, and he did what he has so many times: Got outs.
He retired the first two batters with relative ease. Then things began to turn as he gave up a walk to one of the weakest hitters in the Philadelphia lineup, center fielder Cesar Hernandez.
Jimmy Rollins followed with an RBI-double off the wall in right center field to tie the game at 2-2. After an intentional walk to Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz laced a single through the left side. Bryce Harper collected the ball and fired home. His throw beat Rollins, but Wilson Ramos had to step to his left to field it and Rollins beat the sweeping tag.
The Phillies had a 3-2 lead and the Nationals stood on the field stunned at what had just happened. The top of the ninth went as planned for the Phils as closer Jonathan Papelbon came in and shutdown Washington to seal the win.
Nationals fans have seen this movie far too many times this year with good pitching but not a timely hit to be found anywhere in the talented lineup. 25 games left to go and almost no room for error is the reality for the Nationals. They still have a pulse, but they will have to fight harder to survive.