You won’t find the Nationals lamenting breaks that didn’t go their way in a 1-0 loss to the Phillies on Sunday.
To a man, they admitted they ran into a tough pitcher in Phillies righty Roberto Hernandez., who outdueled Washington’s Gio Gonzalez on an afternoon when windy conditions made things tough for both teams. They Nats ran themselves out of a possible big inning in the first and didn’t come through with the tying run on third in the eighth.
It all added up to a loss capping a 3-2 road trip on a day when they could have leapfrogged the Braves and into first place in the National League East with a victory.
Instead, they head home to face the Dodgers in a three-game series in second place in the division, trailing the Braves by a half-game, just as they did when play Sunday started.
Gonzalez did his part, checking the Phillies on four hits over 7 1/3 innings and allowing only a first-inning run on a triple by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley’s single. But the Nats could do nothing against Hernandez, who lowered his ERA from 5.74 to 4.50 with 7 1/3 frames of four-hit, shutout ball.
“It was just a good pitchers’ duel,” Gonzalez said. “We battled. ... Tough loss.”
When it was suggested that he got little support from the Nationals offense, Gonzalez quickly replied, “There will be nights where these guys will give me seven or eight runs. It’s just baseball. “
While Zach Walters came to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the ninth against Jonathan Papelbon, representing the potential go-ahead run after Sandy Leon singled with two down, this one turned in the first inning. That’s when the Nats gambled with some aggressive baserunning and lost, only to see the Phillies push across the game’s lone run in the bottom half.
With one out, Kevin Frandsen drew a walk and Jayson Werth followed with a grounder that glanced off the glove of third baseman Jayson Nix and into left field. Frandsen tried to make it to third and was cut down on a perfect peg by left fielder John Mayberry for the inning’s second out. Werth took second on the play and Adam LaRoche walked, but both were stranded when Anthony Rendon grounded into an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
Frandsen said he had no qualms about his decision to try to reach third, even if it might have cost the Nats a big inning.
“I’ll go 100 times out of 100 on that one,” he said. “Especially with one out, knowing that J.W. is aggressive, as well, behind me. He’s going to be on second base. One guy’s going to be in scoring position or two guys. It took a perfect throw to get it. I’m not second-guessing that at all.”
Nor did manager Matt Williams, even if the play loomed large almost three hours later.
“Hindsight is perfect, always.,” Williams said. “But he was aggressive and it took a clean pickup barehand and a very good throw to get him. ... We want to be aggressive there and we want to make sure we’re putting pressure. At the end of the day, it looks like a play that if we didn’t do, we may have different opportunities. I got no problem with it.”
By the time the Nats threatened again, the landscape had changed considerably and they were playing to score one and tie the game in the eighth.
Denard Span singled to right and advanced on Frandsen’s sacrifice bunt. Mike Adams replaced Hernandez and got Werth to roll out to first baseman Ryan Howard with Span taking third. In came Antonio Bastardo, who walked LaRoche and then got Rendon looking at a borderline pitch for a called third strike.
The Nats finished the day 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on an afternoon when such chances weren’t a frequent occurrence.
“We talk about opportunities and trading those opportunities,” Williams said. “We’ve had some really key hits over the course of the season so far; we wouldn’t have come back so many times if we didn’t. Today wasn’t our day. But I like where our offense is. That number is a little skewed per our team and the way we’re playing. That number will get better, I think.”
That left the pressure squarely on the left arm of Gonzalez.
“You just got to keep your team in as long as possible,” Gonzalez said. “They had opportunities, too, and I think it was just one of those games where it was going to be a battle all the way through. You just didn’t sense it until the seventh or eighth inning.”