Steam Dissipates Quickly for Nats

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

PITTSBURGH, June 11 -- The Washington Nationals wanted it both ways. They wanted, at once, to forget about the previous night and build on it. Entering Wednesday evening's game at PNC Park, the Nationals hoped to leave behind the heat of a dugout argument while retaining the spark of a comeback win.

But the Nationals proved Wednesday with their 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that one night's spark flickers away fast. It doesn't turn into something brighter. For the second time in a week, the team missed the chance to build a win into a winning streak. Not since May 18-19 have the Nationals won two games in a row.

The loss -- Washington's ninth in 11 games -- offered at least part of what the team wanted, though. It carried none of the dugout drama of one night earlier, when Elijah Dukes and Manager Manny Acta argued during the ninth inning after a go-ahead home run. Acta said before this game that 1.) Dukes would start in right field, batting second, and 2.) the incident, as far as he was concerned, was dead.

Minutes later, General Manager Jim Bowden spoke about the comeback win, a 7-6 thriller featuring five Washington home runs, and wished that the game's best elements could carry on. Bowden said such a win had the potential to "spark" a team long-term.

But especially in baseball, carryover can be a curious thing.

Same as one night prior, Washington fell behind in the first inning. When Jason Bay doubled to left field, scoring Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh had three hits and one run in three at-bats. Washington starter John Lannan had thrown 12 pitches and received one mound visit from his pitching coach.

Same as one night prior, Washington had a chance in the ninth against Pittsburgh closer Matt Capps. But this time, no home run shattered Capps's control of the ballgame. With Ryan Langerhans on first, Dukes blistered a ground ball to third that turned into a game-ending double play.

Fireworks lit the sky.

The Pirates, not the Nationals, formed a double-line on the field for high-fives, and everybody slapped hands.

"There's never a carryover unless you have a good game," Acta said. "I'm not big on those kinds of things, momentum and all that kind of stuff. I'm just big on doing things right so things can go right for you. But I believe that [Tuesday] night, and the way they swung the bats -- I think it helped a bit today. But it didn't show in the score."

The game's starters, Ian Snell and Lannan, both had reasons for dreading too much carryover. Both, rather, wanted the chance for a turnaround.

Lannan had the chance to overwrite the worst start of his career -- a May 2 game against Pittsburgh where six runs chased him from the game after three innings. Snell, meanwhile, had the chance to begin rebuilding the worst season of his career; he entered Wednesday's game with a 2-6 record and a 5.65 ERA, a puzzling downgrade from 2007, when he posted a 9-12 record but a 3.76 ERA.

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