By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, April 27 -- For more than three hours Monday night, everything was reckless and loud, a hysterical joyride, pedal pressed to the floor. And when it ended -- after five tape-measure home runs for one team; two grand slams for the other team; after a combined 10 runs scored in the eighth inning; after a wild game when quality pitching played hooky and no lead felt secure -- only one little corridor in the stadium that hosted this madness wasn't shaking with energy. The Washington Nationals' clubhouse was near silent.
Silence was the only endpoint, because all explanations betrayed them. Up big in the middle of the game, up big toward the end, the Nationals proved once and for all that they can turn almost any near win into heartbreak. Adept at scoring runs and blowing leads, Washington lost, 13-11, against Philadelphia with max output on both fronts. On the same night they scored their most runs of the season, they blew their largest lead. Entering the top of the eighth inning with an 11-7 advantage, the Nationals watched two relievers -- first Garrett Mock, then closer Joel Hanrahan -- throw a combined 33 pitches and give it all away.
With two outs in that inning, Hanrahan, who had already walked two hitters and thrown a wild pitch, faced Raúl Ibáñez. It was 11-9 at that point. The bases were loaded. For the first time in his career, Hanrahan thought about what might happen if he committed a mistake.
"And I don't know why," Hanrahan said. "This is the first time I've thought about, 'If I give up a home run here, oh crap.' "
Reality followed the form of his imagination.
Ibáñez swatted a grand slam down the right field line. Citizens Bank erupted. Hanrahan, who blew two saves in an earlier series this year against Florida, further damaged his job stability. Asked after the game if Hanrahan would remain the team's closer, Manager Manny Acta said: "You know, we're going to have to sit back and think this through, because we're not going to make a decision out of a reaction of tonight, because it's not like we do have Rollie Fingers and Mariano Rivera in our bullpen. So we're just going to sit back, think it through, and we'll come back with a decision."
Acta called the loss "deflating," but other words -- a whole range of them -- could apply to this game's details. It was encouraging, because the Nationals flexed their offensive muscle, belting five home runs -- not one the product of a bandbox ballpark. It was wobbly, a back-and-forth affair in which the starting pitchers (Joe Blanton and Shairon Martis) combined for 9 1/3 innings, 16 hits allowed and 13 earned runs. It was, last of all, devastating for Hanrahan, who replaced Mock with two outs in the eighth.
"I mean, it's pretty bad," Hanrahan said. "I sit out there for 7 1/2 or eight innings and watch these guys battle back, battle back. We get five home runs today and put up 11 runs. If you put up 11 runs, you're supposed to win the game. They hit the crap out of the ball today, and I let everybody down."
Judged by offense alone, Washington did enough to win, as balls were taking journeys longer than any since they left the factory. One of the home runs, probably the shortest of the night, landed about 20 rows deep in Section 103. One of the home runs brushed a brick wall of ivy, 416 feet from home plate. One of the home runs flew toward a patio in deep left-center, a spot for buying beer and hoagies, generally beyond range of free souvenirs. One of the home runs soared into the second deck in right. One of the home runs, Ryan Zimmerman's second of the night, traveled 451 feet.
Zimmerman's first home run, a jet-stream rip to dead center, came in the third. It extended his hitting streak to 16 games and helped Washington build a 4-2 lead. With two more solo shots -- one from Elijah Dukes, another from Zimmerman -- that lead grew.
But it didn't survive Martis's start. In the fifth, the 22-year-old served up a grand slam to Ryan Howard, tying the game. Both teams scored single runs in the seventh, and the Nationals appeared to grab a decisive lead in the top of the eighth against reliever Scott Eyre. The lefty walked Anderson Hernández, then gave up a homer to Nick Johnson. Then, he walked Zimmerman and gave up a homer to Adam Dunn.
That lead, too, didn't survive the bottom of the inning.
"It's been the story of our season," Zimmerman said. "We play a good game and we can't close it out. It seems like the last three or four innings have been that way for us all year. Obviously, it's something we need to get better at. You hate to put blame or anything like that on your teammates, and I'm not here to do that, but we know what we need to get better at. Hopefully, we will."