At this point in the season, with the number of remaining games shrinking and the Nationals trying to scrap their way back into the playoff picture, Davey Johnson’s bunch can’t really afford to be losing ballgames.
The Nats already knew coming into tonight’s game against the Phillies that the Reds had won today, and a loss here at Nats Park would increase their deficit in the wild card race to 5 1/2 games with just 14 remaining.
As hot as the Nats have been as of late and as hard as they tried to come back and even the score tonight, they fell just short, losing to the Phillies 5-4, a defeat that delivers a big blow to their already slim postseason hopes.
“That one was tough,” manager Davey Johnson said. “What was it, three and a half hours? It was the seventh inning when (Cole) Hamels, he tired. Shoot, I thought we were going to get him.”
The Nats got to Hamels for one run in the first and then three in the seventh, but even that wasn’t enough. They were put in a 4-1 hole thanks to a four-run Phillies fifth inning off Gio Gonzalez, and despite having numerous opportunities to tie the game late, the Nats failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position.
One of their better chances came after the three runs came around in the seventh, cutting the Phillies’ lead to one. Bryce Harper stood at third base with two outs and up came Wilson Ramos, who has been red-hot lately.
Ramos battled against Phillies righty B.J. Rosenberg, fouling off four pitches, before taking what looked to be ball two in off the plate inside. Instead, home plate umpire Jim Joyce rung Ramos up, ending the inning.
“(Joyce) knew he missed it,” said Johnson, who talked to Joyce about the call during a pitching change later in the game. “But that’s part of baseball. But we had a lot of chances and had the right guys up. We battled back. I was proud of them battling back. Even Desi (Ian Desmond), when we were down 5-1, he said, ‘We’re gonna win this ballgame.’ ”
In the eighth, Jeff Kobernus stood on second with one out. Steve Lombardozzi flied out, and Denard Span grounded out to the pitcher to end the threat. In the ninth, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double to left, then watched as Jayson Werth, Desmond and Ramos were set down to end the game. Overall, the Nats went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base.
“Werth got beat on a fastball in,” Johnson said. “Nobody’s beat him in. And Desi was late on a heater. You usually don’t see those things happen late. It was a good pitcher out there, so it’s tough.”
Gonzalez breezed through his first four innings of work, then allowed a one-out homer to John Mayberry in the fifth that tied the game. Five batters later, Carlos Ruiz smacked a bases-clearing double to right, bringing in three to make it a 4-1 Phillies lead.
“Gio just had that one inning where it looked like he just lost his command,” Johnson said. “The big thing was the walk to (Chase) Utley. And then getting Ruiz up, he’s been awful hot with baserunners in scoring position. But it hurt that we gave up a run in the seventh. I still thought we had a chance to come back on ‘em. We had our opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize.”
The run in the seventh came around on Ian Krol, who has really struggled over the last couple months. Krol gave up a leadoff double to Jimmy Rollins, then Utley followed with an RBI single to give the Phillies what ended up being a crucial insurance run.
“He’s blown the shortstop away every time with fastballs,” Johnson said of Krol. “He threw one by him and then comes back with a changeup. Then he gave up a little bloop hit to Utley. He’s still young, I don’t think he knows what he wants to do. He just relies on the catcher. But he’s got a good arm, he’s got good stuff. He’ll put it all together.”
The Nats may be down, but they insist they’re not out.
“We’re still fine,” Johnson said. “We just gotta win the games. Just gotta keep winning them. We gotta win tomorrow and win the next day and on down the road. Send a message to Atlanta when they come in.”