Sweep slips away from Nationals

By all accounts, this was a very good six-game homestand for the Nationals. In a six-game stretch that began with Stephen Strasburg getting scratched and included rampant speculation both about his immediate health and Adam Dunn’s long-term future, the Nationals managed to take four of six games from the top two teams in their division.

The margin between very good and great came on Sunday, in the form of a bunt in between the mound and first base, a high fastball, a missed cutoff man and a hanging curveball. If one or more of those things hadn’t happened, there’s a good chance the Nationals would’ve ended a homestand against the Braves and Phillies with a 5-1 record.

And the fact that they did happen, and propelled the Phillies to a 6-4. 11-inning win over the Nationals on Sunday, has to sting a little. Presented with a chance to sweep the Phillies on Sunday, Washington instead let a game slip away that could’ve been won with just a few alterations.

Jim Riggleman meets with the media after the Nats 6-4 loss in 11 innings against the Phillies

“We’ve just got to keep realizing that we’re not that far away, in terms of competing with these clubs like Atlanta and Philadelphia,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “We play them even-up, pretty much, and we’re right there if we just play good, solid baseball, pitch a little deeper in the game. We’re going to see more light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wilson Valdez started the 11th inning with a bunt between Adam Dunn and Collin Balester. Dunn fielded it, and Balester thought he beat Valdez to the first-base bag. but first-base umpire Doug Eddings ruled Valdez safe. Then came a sac bunt from Roy Oswalt, pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot, and Valdez went to third on Jimmy Rollins’ flyout to center when Nyjer Morgan bypassed cutoff man Alberto Gonzalez on a throw to third.

Balester left a fastball a little up to Placido Polanco, and he singled to center to score the go-ahead run. Then came a hanging curve to Jayson Werth, which the outfielder blasted off the wall in right center. The Phillies were up two, and the Nationals did nothing against Brad Lidge a night after winning the game against him.

John Lannan allowed two runs in five innings of his first big-league start in five weeks, despite giving up seven hits and teetering on the brink of letting the game get away from him. But he struck out the side in the fifth inning to strand runners on first and second, and left with a no-decision.

If the Nationals had gotten a little better effort from Balester, though, or if Willie Harris’ sharp grounder in the 10th had sneaked through the hole at second with Morgan on third, they would’ve had their first-ever sweep of the Phillies.

Instead, they’ll have to settle for a homestand that was just pretty good.

“Obviously we’d like to have the sweep today,” outfielder Josh Willingham said. “But we won the series, so that’s good.”