Nationals' win streak ends at two with loss to Phillies

Washington Manager Jim Riggleman is about to be ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber in the fifth inning.
Washington Manager Jim Riggleman is about to be ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber in the fifth inning. (Matt Rourke/associated Press)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Riggleman could sense the Washington Nationals' momentum -- collected during two weekend victories, built upon during Monday's first four innings -- slipping away. He trudged to the mound less intent on talking to his pitcher than on making a point.

The Philadelphia Phillies had just scored their first run, a run that would spark the Phillies' 7-4 victory in the opener at Citizens Bank Park, a run that would not have scored had home plate umpire Paul Schrieber given Jason Marquis a close called third strike before Ryan Howard smacked an RBI single. Standing with Marquis, Riggleman waited long enough that he knew Schrieber would amble to the mound.

Riggleman couldn't have foreseen the oncoming barrage that erased the Nationals' four-run lead and gave the Phillies another win over the Nationals. Their fans invaded Nationals Park on opening day, and by the end of Monday the Phillies had beaten the Nationals 42 times in 58 meetings.

Something, Riggleman decided, had to change. His team may be beat. It would not be bullied. He stared at Schrieber as the umpire walked toward him.

"I just felt like I needed to make a statement that we got to get a little respect, too," Riggleman said. "That's the Phillies over there, who have earned a great amount of respect. But we got to get some respect, too. I felt like I had to say something."

Schrieber did what Riggleman knew he would -- he ejected him. Riggleman watched the Phillies clobber Marquis on television from his office.

The Nationals grabbed a 4-0 lead after their half of the fourth on a solo home run by Josh Willingham and a two-run, two-out single by Marquis himself. Phillies fans became something they rarely are: Quiet.

"We definitely had them on the ropes," first baseman Adam Dunn said. "When you got a chance to put a team away like that and you don't do it, it gives them a second wind."

The Nationals never counted on a victory. "When you're up a few runs on that ballclub, you're playing like it's 0-0," Riggleman said. And so in the fourth, Chase Utley walked to the plate with a man on first. With the count 2-1, Marquis licked his fingers. Schrieber called Marquis for an automatic ball -- he ruled Marquis had not, as rules demand, wiped off his fingers on his pants before grabbing the ball.

"I know I wiped," Marquis said. "It's he-said, she-said type thing."

Marquis threw Utley another ball, bringing up Howard, who Marquis said "has holes in his swing" after his first start. Howard fouled off a pair of pitches to make the count 1-2, and Marquis tried to find one of those holes with a slider low and away. Howard watched it go by. Marquis thought he had strike three. Schrieber called ball two.

Three pitches later, Howard slapped a sinker into left for an RBI single. The Phillies would not stop scoring in the fifth until Utley launched Marquis's final pitch off the foul pole in right for a two-run homer. The Nationals, suddenly, had gone from four runs up to three runs down. Signed to stabilize the Nationals' staff, Marquis has allowed 12 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.

"The team put myself in position to win a ballgame, and I wasn't able to get the job done," Marquis said. "I let them down."

When Riggleman's players joined him in the clubhouse, he had his message prepared: "We haven't got started yet," he told them. The Nationals are 3-4, one game under .500, despite playing the defending National League champion Phillies in four of those games. Dunn, their cleanup hitter, has 10 walks but only two hits and one RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has sat out the last 2 1/2 games with a sore hamstring.

"We don't have a lot of guys swinging the bat too good," Dunn said. "That's the bright side of it."

"We have a good team," catcher Iván Rodríguez said. "And we are not there yet. We're going to be a ball club.

"We're not bad at all. We're going to be just fine."

Earlier, Riggleman had tried to make a statement to ensure they would be. On Monday, a day that had started with such promise and ended in such a familiar way, it did not work. He can only hope his statement will help make a change.

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