Nationals’ early chances loom large in late stumble against Yankees

The Nationals have been playing good baseball. Tonight, they faced a team playing just as well. When you face a team like the Yankees, it takes more than good starting pitching to win.

For six innings, the Nats were in this thing, down 2-1. But a four-run seventh inning decided it, and the Yankees cruised 7-2, with five runs in the final three frames.

One way the outcome could have been different would have been if the Nationals had taken advantage of chances they had early against Yankees starter Phil Hughes.

In the first, the Nationals had two men on and one out.

In the second, the Nationals had a man in scoring position with two outs.

And in the third, the Nationals had the bases loaded with one out and a run in.

Each time, the Nationals failed to capitalize.

Ryan-Zimmerman-sidebar.jpgDown 2-1, it doesn’t hurt as much, as some teams will let you off the hook. A solo shot or a late rally and you can pull off a quick comeback.

But if the Nationals had been able to generate a big base hit in a few of those early chances, then the pressure would have been on the Yankees. Instead, very little offense made a comeback excruciatingly difficult.

“We opened the door for them, and that is what happens,” said manager Davey Johnson. “We had opportunities, and we just didn’t capitalize. We had men on base early in the ballgame with the right guys up and didn’t deliver. That is baseball.”

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who opened with a single, was unable to get on base in his next three at-bats. He said Hughes did a nice job of keeping the Nationals hitters off-balance.

“Any time you don’t get runs it feels like a missed opportunity,” Zimmerman said. “You want to come through every single time. Obviously, the odds are not in your favor to come through every time. You got to give them credit too. (Hughes) pitched well when he needed to, and he got out of some jams.”

Shortstop Ian Desmond said the team still feels good about where they are. This game just came down to one big rally, and with the way Hughes was pitching, it was too much to overcome.

“We were right there with them,” Desmond said. “It was a couple of mistakes, and they obviously took the lead. We were in the game the whole game until the four-run inning. I feel good about the way we matched up.”

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