The Nationals remain on top of baseball even after their loss Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, their 77-49 record still best in the majors. They surely know holding on to their status will prove just as hard as attaining it. They still have to face pitchers such as Roy Halladay, who on any night may be at his robotic best. They still have to respond to inevitable skids such as the three-game losing streak they are now in the middle of.
“You just battle through it,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “It doesn’t make it any easier if we come tomorrow thinking about tonight. We’ve been good all year about forgetting about it and coming back and getting another streak going. I don’t see how this will be any different.”
In his bid to earn his league-leading 17th win, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez gave up two runs before he recorded his second out. In the sixth, he yielded a game-winning home run to John Mayberry on the first pitch of the inning. Besieged this year by injury, Halladay returned to his dominant form with seven efficient innings. He threw 86 strikes in 105 pitches, with only a two-run, game-tying single by Steve Lombardozzi in the fifth saving a shutout.
The churn of the baseball season and the grind of a pennant race ensure nothing good will last forever and nothing will be as easy as it seems. Even the best teams, as the Nationals are suddenly finding, confront potholes to swerve around and rough patches to pull out of. You do not cruise into October. You have to earn it.
“There’s no way to go through a season without that,” Zimmerman said. “We just have to learn from our mistakes and keep playing good baseball. We’ve played good baseball. We just got beat the last two nights.”
Still, the Nationals have raised their stakes to where each loss matters. For a while in the Nationals’ clubhouse, only water smacking the floor, muffled curses and the squeaky wheels of carts pushed by clubbies interrupted silence.
Less than two weeks ago, the Nationals rolled through an eight-game tear, sustained winning that made you wonder how any team would beat them. Now they face their first three-game skid since July 21. The rarity of their losing streaks means they still hold a 51
2- game lead over the Atlanta Braves, who won Saturday afternoon in San Francisco to pick up a game in the standings.
“We’re really good at fighting back after we lose a couple,” LaRoche said. “We haven’t had that huge skid where everything falls apart. Again, I don’t see it happening here.”