Tonight, for just the second time this season, the Nationals entered the ninth inning trailing and were able to tie the score or take the lead.
Chad Tracy's solo homer off Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth turned what looked like another frustrating loss into a big momentum booster. Then, it became a frustrating loss yet again.
Domonic Brown's two-out, two-strike RBI single off Nats left-hander Fernando Abad scored Ben Revere from third and gave the Nats a 5-4 loss. With the defeat, the Nationals fell back below .500 and dropped a series opener for the fourth time in a row.
"It was tough," manager Davey Johnson said. "I guess (Brown) hit a changeup. (Abad) left it a little bit up, and that was the ballgame. Fought back and that was a good ballgame. The bullpen did a good job. I'm not going to fault that. But tough loss."
When a team is on the road, its manager typically holds back on using his closer when a game is tied in the ninth inning or extras because the closer is needed if the road team takes a lead. That's why Johnson didn't go to Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the ninth, once Tracy extended the game.
Johnson would typically go to Drew Storen in that spot, but he said that Storen didn't have enough time after Tracy's homer to get ready in the 'pen.
"Well, we tied it up late," Johnson said. "I didn't want to get Storen. ... I couldn't get him ready in time because I didn't want him to warm up (unless the game got tied), and with the first guy left-handed, if (Abad) gets him, I go to Storen. If he doesn't, he's got to hold the guys on. It's that simple."
Dan Haren worked his way off the hook for the loss with the Tracy homer, but he still didn't pitch too well tonight. The veteran right-hander allowed four runs over six innings, surrendering seven hits, a solo home run to Ryan Howard and three walks.
"He pitched good in spots, and he left some balls out over the plate," Johnson said of Haren. "Finished up strong, but tough ballgame."
Johnson was asked how long the Nats will be able to stick with Haren with as inconsistent as he's been this season.
"Well, we have a lot of faith in him and, he'll be fine," he said.
The Nationals wish they could have followed up Tracy's homer with a zero in the bottom of the ninth and then continued the comeback with a victory in extra innings. Instead, in the span of just a few minutes, the game was over and the Nats had their 35th loss of the season.
"I like the matchup right there," Johnson said. "Just didn't come out on top, that's all. Tough one. Get 'em tomorrow."