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It's not like Sunday's game, on the heels of three straight losses, is a make-or-break event for the Nationals heading into the All-Star hiatus. But the skid consists of three one-run losses - after a string of three one-run victories - and a 2-1 defeat to the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night left the Nats with a 45-46 record, one game under .500.
"I feel like bridesmaid," wisecracked manager Davey Johnson. "I'm getting real close, but I'm not getting into the ceremony."
Davey Johnson meets with the media to discuss the Nats' 2-1 loss to the Rockies
Instead of long faces and an air of resignation, commonplace displays of emotion during past seasons when Washington was already hopelessly out of playoff contention as the Midsummer Classic approached, the clubhouse Saturday night was filled with optimism that the losing streak could be halted and a break-even record was possible in the series finale Sunday.
"Right now, we're living and dying by the one-run game," said shortstop Ian Desmond. "It's going to get going, though. We're playing good defense, our pitching is great. ... These one-run games are fluke, you know? It'll turn around for us."
Better a one-run loss, said second baseman Danny Espinosa, than a lopsided setback.
"I think I'd rather lose a one-run game than get blown out," he said. "Blown out is a horrible feeling - you just get stepped on. One-run game, you know you were in the game the entire time, right in, had an opportunity to win."
The Nats did have opportunities against Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez and closer Huston Street. Just not many of them, meaning they had fewer chances to cash in runners.
Jimenez (4-8) retired the first 13 hitters in order before Michael Morse singled in the fifth. In the sixth, Desmond led off with a triple, a sinking liner that eluded a diving Ryan Spilborghs in center field, and scored when pinch hitter Rick Ankiel grounded out to second, halving Colorado's 2-0 lead.
Johnson called Jimenez "filthy," but Espinosa wouldn't heap on such plaudits, only noting that the opposing pitcher was effective enough.
"He was pretty good tonight," Espinosa said of Jimenez. "He's a guy that throws real hard, got his breaking stuff over decently tonight. He was flipping over a big curveball the first pitch and kind of going from there. But he's hittable. He's been touched before."
In each of the last five innings, the Nats had baserunners, and singles by Ryan Zimmerman and Morse in the ninth off Street set the stage for a comeback. But Jayson Werth grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end it.
"Our guys battled real hard," Johnson said. "We pitched, we played great defense. We had the right guys up, we just didn't get it done."
Those one-run losses are becoming tougher and tougher for Johnson to swallow, which was evident in the barely-above-a-whisper postgame statement of the painfully obvious.
"We just got to start scoring a few more runs. ... We're going to get it done. Sooner or later, we're going to get it done," Johnson promised.
At least the pitching side of the equation didn't fail the Nationals. Jason Marquis (7-4), coming off a forgettable 1 1/3 innings when he was tagged for seven runs (six earned) against the Pirates on July 3, worked six innings and allowed only two runs - Todd Helton's solo home leading off the fourth and a run-scoring groundout by Helton in the fifth after Mark Ellis had doubled and moved to third on a relay play started by left fielder Laynce Nix that nabbed Spilborghs at the plate for the inning's first out.
"We give ourselves a chance every game and we did that tonight," said Marquis, who yielded five hits, walked four and fanned one. "We fell a little short. We've been on the winning end of one-run games here lately, so we're a little disappointed in that sense."
The three victories that preceded the current losing streak were all by a single run. But the Nationals have dropped the first two games of a weekend set against the Rockies, the first time in six series since dropping two of three to the Padres from May 27-29 that the resurgent Nats have lost a home series.
"Momentum is a game-by-game, out-by-out type thing. ... I don't think anybody in here is really looking too far into that," Desmond said. "It would be definitely nice to get a win, show these guys what kind of ball we play."
Especially with a .500 record at the break a possibility for a team that was 39-50 heading into the second half in 2010.
"Just (winning) the one game to be .500 going into the second half would be huge," Espinosa said. "We don't want to be under .500 going into the second half. If we do (lose), we are. It's not like it's going to affect us in the long run, but to be .500 going into the second half and end the first half on a winning note might be some good momentum to carry into the second half."