In defeat, offense puts up a good fight

What a great atmosphere we had here at Nationals Park tonight, as 42,331 packed the yard to catch an exciting game between two surprisingly successful teams early in the season.

Tonight was actually the second-largest crowd in the history of Nats Park, yet, despite that fact, it wasn’t even a sellout.

Those on hand watched the Nationals fall behind big early and then scratch their way back in the middle innings. Things got really good in the ninth when Ryan Zimmerman smacked a two-out homer to left to get the Nats within one and bring the crowd to its feet, but Orioles closer Jim Johnson ended it one batter later when he blew away Adam LaRoche with a 96 mph two-seam fastball.

“We had a chance,” manager Davey Johnson said. “When you’re down six-zip and you come back in the eighth and ninth inning and have a chance to win a ballgame, that’s the sign of a good team. ... I’m always proud of this ballclub, but tonight, especially proud. We battled back and (it was a) heck of a ballgame.”

“We battled to the end,” Bryce Harper said. “We’re a team that will never give up and will always battle to the ninth and down to the final out in the ninth inning. We’ve got a pitching staff that keeps up in the game pretty much every game we play. If we could get some more runs for them, that would be great.”

A lack of offensive production wasn’t the issue tonight, as Ross Detwiler will tell you.

Zimmerman had three hits (two of the extra-base variety), Steve Lombardozzi went 2-for-5 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot, Roger Bernadina reached three times and drove in a run, and Carlos Maldonado drove in a run and battled to draw a big walk.

The Nats were able to knock O’s starter Jason Hammel from the game in the sixth and get to the ‘pen, and nearly pulled off the comeback bid.

Still, it seems like there have been a number of games this season when the Nats have struggled with the bats early on. Before you know it, you look up and it’s the fifth inning, Washington has yet to score and the opposing pitcher is cruising.

This was the fourth time in the last five games that the Nats have failed to score in the first four innings, leaving them needing to come through in the clutch late to have a shot at a win.

“We just haven’t been able to score runs early off their guys,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t necessarily put bad at-bats or anything. We just haven’t scored runs. ... It’s not easy to score runs. And the last couple nights - (James) McDonald the other night against Pittsburgh, and then (Hammel) tonight - I think they got comfortable and then we battled and scraped some runs to get them out. Which I think isn’t usually easy to do.

“It can’t always happen in a game where you jump out to a lead and cruise home. This team handles adversity well, and we battle to the last out. We did that again tonight, and that’s all you can ask for.”

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