Nationals Fail to Cover All Bases

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008

P Before the bunt went down, Nick Johnson thought through the play. The runner to Johnson's right was Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins, as shrewd a speedster as there is in the game. Tie score, 10th inning, Johnson's Washington Nationals threatening to sweep Rollins's Phillies.

"I thought I'd peek over there," Johnson said. "I knew he might go."

And off Rollins went. Of all the plays the Nationals could mull over as they boarded a flight following their first loss of the season -- an 8-7, 10-inning setback to the Phillies on Thursday afternoon -- there was nothing they could do to combat Rollins's combination of athletic ability and absolute awareness. Not only did he take second on Shane Victorino's sacrifice bunt, but he motored to third. Three walks later -- two intentional to load the bases, the last on four errant pitches by Washington reliever Jesús Colome to Jayson Werth -- the Phillies had a much-needed win, and the Nationals had to wonder how they got themselves in position where Rollins's play mattered so much.

"We had them on the ropes, and we let them off," said reliever Ray King, part of a bullpen that surrendered three runs in four innings and allowed the two runners it inherited to score. "We should have swept those guys today."

So put away, for now, fanciful ideas about a storybook start for the Nationals, who had impressed by winning their first three games, including the first two here against the Phillies, the defending National League East champs. This game was quite winnable, and Washington didn't win it for all kinds of reasons.

The Nationals scored five times in the first inning, and might have run away with it. But in the second, they loaded the bases with nobody out yet got nothing but Austin Kearns's chopper back to Philadelphia left-hander Jamie Moyer, a ball that started a 1-2-3 double play, and Aaron Boone's strikeout. They got a run in the fourth to make it 6-1, but could have had more had shortstop Cristian Guzmán (3 for 6, two doubles) not been caught dancing off second by Moyer.

"We had plenty of other opportunities to add on," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who went 0 for 6, including grounding into an inning-ending force play with the bases loaded in the eighth.

Start with those missed chances, but add in a few other things. Right-hander Jason Bergmann looked brilliant through five innings, allowing only Chris Coste's solo home run. In the sixth, though, "I left a couple balls up," Bergmann said, and the Phillies hit them.

How's this for torture? Single, single, single, single, Bergmann replaced by Saúl Rivera. Wild pitch, single, single, single, Rivera replaced by King. Hit batter, single. That's nine straight Phillies reaching base against three pitchers, a six-run rally that made it 7-6 Philadelphia. Death by paper cut.

"Nobody was able to stop the bleeding," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.

The Nationals tied it on Guzmán's two-out, RBI single in the eighth to make it 7-7. But not only did Zimmerman strand the bases full there, the Nationals loaded them up again in the ninth, only to have pinch hitter Willie Harris -- the last healthy body on the bench, given that first baseman Dmitri Young has a tight back -- bounce out to first, ending another threat.

So it came to the 10th, with Rollins leading off against Colome, the hard-throwing right-hander. Rollins, the reigning NL MVP, was 0 for 4 on the day and made his second error of the series, but he lashed a single to right.

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