The Nationals didn't get blown out by the Phillies. Their offense did almost as much damage in seven innings against Roy Halladay on Monday as it's done in six games against him in the last two years. And in the kind of game they've typically let slip away against the four-time National League East champions, they rallied to tie it after blowing a lead.
They had as much reason to feel good about themselves after a one-run loss on Monday as they've had in a while. And yet, any boost they'd be able to get from a close loss was gone long ago.
After a 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Monday, they were left only with these facts: They've lost 10 of their last 12, six of those by one run. They're 5-12 in one-run games this season. And because of that, they're 22-31, sitting alone with the third-worst record in baseball.
"It's tough, because we're playing great and staying in the game. But in the end, it doesn't add up. You just want to win," said infielder Alex Cora, who got thrown out in a rundown in the seventh inning with the Nationals down one. "It'd be great tomorrow to score seven and make five errors and win the game."
They couldn't on Monday, again losing by a run despite homering three times off a pitcher who'd only given up two homers all season. They had a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, with Sean Burnett a strike away from putting away Chase Utley for the second out of the inning. Utley, though, came back to get a walk, Ryan Howard slipped a hit past Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa, and Raul Ibanez drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the inning, the Nationals put runners on first and third with no outs after a pair of hustle plays - Cora turning a bloop hit into a double and Ian Desmond beating out a bunt despite. But Rick Ankiel hit a hard grounder back to Halladay and Cora, who was going on contact, got caught in a rundown. On the next at-bat, Espinosa hit a fly ball that would have scored Cora if he'd been at third. Both Cora and manager Jim Riggleman, though, said the veteran had to run there, because if he didn't, the ball would have turned into a double play that would have left him at third and still rendered Espinosa's fly ball useless.
"If you don't go, they turn two on you, and you're standing there at third," Riggleman said. "You've got to go there."
They didn't get another hit the rest of the game, and wound up losing for the sixth time in seven games this year against the Phillies. And with Cliff Lee on the mound tomorrow, they could be looking at falling 10 games under .500 by the end of May.
"I thought we hit him well. I thought we played a good ballgame," Espinosa said. "We threw well, everything. It was a good performance by us. They had some hits that just found the right holes. It was an unfortunate loss."