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Fifth-Inning Meltdown Dooms the Nationals

The answer, it turned out, was yes. Against Seo, the Nationals were their sluggish selves. Seo allowed only Vidro's squib single in the first through four innings, and finished by allowing just one run over six innings.

By then, he had been staked to a 10-0 lead, helped by Tomo Ohka's latest shaky outing, and the absurd fifth, in which the Mets sent 12 men to the plate against helpless Joe Horgan and scored six runs on six hits, one physical error, a slew of mental errors, a walk and a wild pitch.

Washington's J.J. Davis breaks his bat on an RBI single during the 7th inning in New York. The Nationals have lost 3 games in a row and 5 of their last 6. (Chad Rachman -- AP)

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"Whoever goes out there is shutting us down the first five innings," Robinson said. "Doesn't matter who's out there. We just don't seem to be able to get anything going."

Not just Saturday, but every day. Of the 73 runs the Nationals have scored this season, 44 have come in the seventh inning or later. They have just eight runs in the first three innings all season.

"The first couple innings," Wilkerson said, "it seems like we're just trying to get the feel of things. We got to find a way to make the pitcher throw some more pitches and kind of tire him out.

"I think when you don't get hits early, the pitcher starts cruising along and getting confidence."

For now, the Nationals say they have not lost confidence. "We'll turn it around," Schneider said. Still, several players -- as well as Robinson -- said Sunday's game, pitting ace Livan Hernandez against Victor Zambrano, takes on added importance.

"This club is not as bad as we look right now, and maybe we aren't as good as the way we looked earlier in the season," Robinson said. "But it's a good ballclub. I know that.

"What we can't do is panic right now and start writing this team off or getting down on each other or get down on ourselves, and dig a hole for ourselves."

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