Nats' Rally Comes Up Short
Washington Leaves Two Runners on in Ninth Inning: Pirates 5, Nationals 4

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 2, 2009

PITTSBURGH -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Now 103 games and 71 losses into their season, the Washington Nationals know the anatomy of defeat down to the most intimate detail. They know the saw-it-coming loss. They know the can't-believe-it loss. They know the embarrassing. They know the feel of being bummed, in almost every variation.

But Friday's episode against the Pittsburgh Pirates -- a 5-4 defeat at PNC Park -- came with an updated sort of distress, almost needling, in equal parts because of the team that beat them (the garage sale Buccos), the familiarity of a certain contributor (Pittsburgh's Lastings Milledge, No. 85) and the unexpected shakiness of their rotational bedrock (ace John Lannan). Moreover, Washington took the field for this series opener hoping to salvage a day in which two popular veterans, Joe Beimel and Nick Johnson, were traded in afternoon deadline deals. Playing with 23 on their roster, the Nationals looked like a team just short of manpower.

Their late comeback from a 5-2 deficit fell just short. Washington scored two in the eighth -- both runs were charged against former Washington reliever Joel Hanrahan -- and had two runners on with two outs in the ninth, but closer Matt Capps closed the door and snapped Pittsburgh's five-game losing streak. The upshot? Milledge, in his first big league game since an unceremonious departure from Washington, went 2 for 4, contributed what turned out to be the decisive RBI, and later said, "I worked hard to be here."

During the previous week, Pittsburgh had spent most of its energies scattering its legitimate players across the major league landscape. The team had traded four regulars. For this game, it fielded a lineup with a combined 26 home runs, the equivalent of Adam Dunn's season total. Still, the Pirates had enough strength to mess with Lannan, who only once in his previous 11 starts had allowed more than three earned runs.

Lannan lacked his usual grip on the game, and it showed. It showed when Pittsburgh connected on consecutive hits in the second, tying the score at 1. It showed again in the third, when pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, leadoff man Andrew McCutchen and Milledge connected on back-to-back-to-back hits. Pittsburgh came away with two runs that inning, but it was nearly five. Catcher Ryan Doumit, batting with two aboard, roped a potential homer down the left field line. But it drifted just foul, and Lannan rebounded by forcing him into a double play -- a stabilizer for his outing.

"That third inning, it could have gotten out of hand, and I really had to battle just to keep it at three [runs]," Lannan said.

Though Lannan pushed on for a seven-inning, nine-hit performance -- laudable, given the start -- he allowed a final run in his last inning, the product of Milledge's single up the middle. Lannan, too, couldn't match Pittsburgh's Ohlendorf. The righty allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings, but that understates his effectiveness. Through six, he had thrown just 61 pitches. Only when Ryan Zimmerman belted a seventh-inning solo shot did he hit a wall.

"He did a good job," interim manager Jim Riggleman said of Ohlendorf. "He kept us off balance."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company