Nats lose 4-3 to Phils, despite Zimmerman’s clutch homer

PHILADELPHIA - They got the big blast they needed from Ryan Zimmerman, just in the nick of time. But the Nationals bullpen again couldn’t seal the deal, and so what could’ve been an uplifting Sunday afternoon at the park instead turned into the team’s first two-game losing streak of the young season.

Ryan Zimmerman homer gray henley.jpgZimmerman’s three-run, pinch-hit homer with two outs in the top of the ninth brought the Nationals back from the dead to tie a game that had looked lost. But Koda Glover gave up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, giving up a bloop RBI single to left to César Hernández that gave the Phillies a 4-3 walk-off victory.z

Hernandez’s single came on a 1-1 pitch from Glover, who opened the inning by walking Daniel Nava and later allowed a single to Freddy Galvis, but was one out from escaping the jam and sending the game to extra innings. That final out never came.

The ending spoiled a dramatic moment provided by Zimmerman only minutes earlier. Given his first day off of the season, the 32-year-old first baseman was summoned off the bench by manager Dusty Baker to pinch-hit for catcher Jose Lobaton with two on and two out in the top of the ninth.

After taking two straight balls from Phillies closer Jeanmar Gómez, Zimmerman hammered a fastball deep to left, only the second pinch-hit homer of his career. The previous one: April 15, 2010, in this same ballpark.

The Nationals had been lifeless up to that point, shut out by Jeremy Hellickson and three Philadelphia relievers. But they remained within striking distance, thanks to Stephen Strasburg’s quality start.

Strasburg went seven innings on a day when his exhausted bullpen needed it, and though he allowed three earned runs, two were the direct result of a play that wasn’t made in the field behind him.

With two outs and a man on third in the bottom of the fifth, Strasburg got Hernández to hit a grounder to the right side of the infield. But what should have been an inning-ending groundout instead turned into an RBI single when Adam Lind was late to cover first base and Daniel Murphy hesitated to make the throw.

That brought home one run, then Hernández scored moments later on Howie Kendrick’s double to the gap in left-center, turning a one-run deficit for the Nationals into a three-run hole.

Strasburg wound up throwing 105 pitches and striking out eight batters in a quality performance the club desperately needed after its relief corps had thrown 16 1/3 innings over the previous four days.

The right-hander, though, was one-upped by Hellickson, who allowed only one hit and one walk over his five innings before his forearm cramped up while warming up for the sixth. Not that it proved to be a problem for the Phillies, who got three scoreless innings of relief from Joaquín Benoit, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris before Gómez blew it in the ninth.

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