Mr. Reliable has a rare misstep

PHILADELPHIA - For the last handful of weeks, Nationals manager Davey Johnson has targeted the 90-win mark as what he feels his team will have to reach in order to have a realistic shot at the postseason.

With last night’s loss, the Nationals now need to go 21-4 to get to 90 wins. That’s an .840 winnings percentage, or a 136-win pace.

Not looking too likely, huh?

Last night’s loss stung for a number of reasons.

The Nationals held a 2-1 lead going to the bottom of the eighth inning. They wasted six stellar innings from Stephen Strasburg, who is still stuck on just six wins this season despite his 2.85 ERA. They had few opportunities to pile on more runs, but couldn’t get the job done when they were presented chances, going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. They had the tying run at third base with one out in the ninth, only to see Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon fail to put the ball in play.

Another factor that made last night’s loss a kick in the gut was that the Nats’ late lead was blown by their most reliable pitcher this season, the guy who has rarely made a misstep along the way.

Tyler Clippard had allowed just 28 hits in 59 2/3 innings going into last night’s outing. He had surrendered just 13 earned runs in that time. But Clippard allowed two hits, two walks (one intentional) and two runs in the eighth inning last night, blowing a 2-1 lead and forcing manager Davey Johnson to come get him before he could finish the eighth inning.

Clippard was asked after the game whether his overall body of work this season, with the amount of success he’s had, helps take the sting off when he does have one bad outing.

“No. It’s never easy, man,” Clippard said. “You could go 40 scoreless and give it up one night. It’s never easy. Losing sucks.”

If I’m not mistaken, this was just the second time all season in 62 appearances that Clippard been pulled in the middle of an inning. He had allowed just one run, three hits and one walk over his previous 10 appearances.

Clippard’s truly been tremendous, but he saw his ERA jump 27 points last night alone, moving from 1.94 to 2.21.

“It’s tough being a relief guy,” Bryce Harper said. “He’s been great for us all year. It’s tough going in there and trying to get the outs and especially in this stadium with those guys over there who battle and grind.

“Jimmy (Rollins), he can swing it. And (Chase) Utley, all those guys. They’ve been in those situations numerous times, so it’s tough, but you’ve got to tip your cap sometimes. It happens.”

The Nationals have lost plenty of games this season where their offense was to blame after leaving countless men in scoring position and wasting chance after chance. They’ve lost lots of games where they got poor starting pitching or poor defense, putting themselves in a hole.

Last night, it was Clippard who had a misstep, something that doesn’t happen often. But it happened at a bad time, given the long odds the Nats already had at making a late push towards the postseason.

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