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Washington Nationals lose to St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2

Washington Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan watches as a two-run home run by St. Louis Cardinals' Felipe Lopez sails out of the park during the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Washington Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan watches as a two-run home run by St. Louis Cardinals' Felipe Lopez sails out of the park during the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 18, 2010, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Jeff Roberson - AP)

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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ST. LOUIS -- Tyler Clippard sat facing his locker inside the Washington Nationals clubhouse, the only noise water smacking the shower floor and the bustle of clubbies stowing away equipment. Clippard rubbed the back of his head as he stared at the contents of his stall, a tan suit on a hanger and a blue duffel bag packed for a long flight home.

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Minutes earlier, Clippard had yielded a game-winning home run Ryan Ludwick, the blast that sealed a crushing, 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals before 36,345 at Busch Stadium. Five days ago, the Nationals would have made the playoffs if the season ended that day. They have not won since, dropping five straight games to end a nine-game, three-city trip.

It says something about where the Nationals are that they could lose five in a row and still stand at an even 20-20 after one quarter of the season. They arrived at that record with a losing streak short on ugliness but chocked with missed opportunities and squandered chances.

The Nationals have scored only 10 runs during their skid, losing three of those games by one run and playing three of them without cleanup hitter Adam Dunn in the starting lineup. On Tuesday, the Nationals squandered several chances against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, disallowing John Lannan to show anything for an encouraging start.

"We've lost five in a row, but we're not playing like it," said Lannan, who allowed two runs in six innings. "We don't feel like we have. We haven't hit our stride with hitting or with pitching. We're kind of struggling."

Before Clippard took the mound, the Nationals had finally delivered when they had a chance to score. With two on and two out in the eighth inning, Ian Desmond fell behind Carpenter 0-2. He watched three balls, not biting. He then smacked a single through the middle, scoring Ryan Zimmerman to tie the score.

On came Clippard. He walked the leadoff batter, the same cardinal sin that doomed him Sunday against the Colorado Rockies. After a flyout, Clippard erased his mistake by picking off pinch-running Brendan Ryan. The bases empty, Clippard could retire Ludwick and send the game to the ninth.

Watching from the dugout, Manager Jim Riggleman thought Clippard threw a good pitch. "No, no," Clippard said. "It was terrible pitch." Clippard tried to throw the cutter away, but instead he left it on the inner half of the plate. The ball spun, but it did not move -- "a nice cement mixer for him," Clippard said.

Ludwick unloaded. Clippard didn't bother to turn around. He did not have to watch the ball sail toward left field, taking with it his team's chance to snap their losing streak and salvage their road trip. The ball landed an estimated 434 feet from home plate.

Riggleman said after the game Clippard is still his eighth-inning reliever. "He really threw the ball well," Riggleman said. Still, in five of his last six appearances, Clippard has either yielded an earned run or allowed an inherited runner to score. In those 7 2/3 innings, Clippard has allowed seven walks and nine hits, two of those home runs.

"I'm just not pounding the zone like I need to," Clippard said. "My stuff is there. It's just a matter of execution and command. It just hasn't been there the last couple outings. It's one things. There's no explanations for it."

The Nationals could have provided their bullpen more leeway. Their best chance, the one they would most regret on the flight home, came in the seventh inning. Down by one, they put two runners in scoring position with one out. A strike out by pinch-hitter Willie Harris and a liner to second by Nyjer Morgan ended the rally.


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