By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2010; D01
BALTIMORE -- Another early lead, another breakdown, another loss. It's all become so routine these days for the Washington Nationals that their demise on Sunday afternoon wasn't so much a question of if as when.
The line score will document the decisive moment of the 4-3 downfall to be in the bottom of the eighth, when Miguel Tejada singled off reliever Tyler Clippard to bring home what would be Baltimore's winning run in front of 22,951 at Camden Yards. The makings of Washington's fourth straight loss, however, began unfolding in the fifth after Nationals starter Luis Atilano had an otherwise sparkling outing interrupted. That's when the Orioles tied the score at 3 and the Nationals' season began veering toward its nadir.
When Baltimore reliever Alfredo Simon got Nyjer Morgan to ground out to end the game, the Nationals officially had reached that gloomy destination, courtesy of a sweep at the hands of the team with the worst record in baseball. In the three games, the Nationals relinquished leads totaling 14-0 and in doing so lost for the 12th time in 15 games.
As if that weren't indignity enough, the Nationals lost to a team that had not swept a series since May 2 and had four wins total this month before this weekend.
"It's just not happening for us," Manager Jim Riggleman said.
At no time during the game was that more apparent than in the eighth after the Nationals put runners on first and second with none out. Washington had slugging Adam Dunn at the plate, power-hitting Josh Willingham on deck and Roger Bernadina, who had homered earlier, in the hole.
Dunn's bat provided the most promise, considering he had driven in six runs in the first two games of the series, including a two-RBI double on Saturday that gave Washington a 4-0 lead. It faded quickly, however, when he struck out on a 2-2 pitch from reliever Will Ohman. David Hernandez replaced Ohman and fanned Willingham on three straight pitches. He did the same to Bernadina.
"It's always tough to lose any game," said Bernadina, who went 1 for 3 with two RBI. "It didn't turn out well today. They got the win. Now you've got to move on to tomorrow."
As per usual during this series, the Nationals went ahead first, getting three runs in the fourth that began with Ryan Zimmerman's walk on four straight pitches. Dunn struck out looking, but Willingham sent a drive to center that got by Adam Jones for a triple. Bernadina followed by taking ball one, then depositing starter Jeremy Guthrie's next offering into the seats in left-center.
That of course wouldn't be enough for the Nationals, who were unable to hold leads of six and five runs, respectively in the first two games of the series. They wound up losing both, and on Sunday, Washington found itself in another precarious circumstance when the Orioles rallied in the fifth.
Ty Wigginton led off the inning by grounding to third, but Baltimore unloaded on Atilano thereafter with hits on four consecutive pitches. Luke Scott ignited the charge with a double to left on a 2-1 count, and Jones laced a double to almost the identical spot for an RBI. Matt Wieters singled to center to advance Jones to third before Scott Moore's single to right drew the Orioles to 3-2.
With runners on first and second, Julio Lugo lined a grounder to third that Zimmerman fielded cleanly before throwing to second for the forceout. But a hard-sliding Moore required second baseman Adam Kennedy to leap while trying to turn the double play, and his throw was off the mark, allowing Wieters to score and Lugo to wind up at second.
"Just got upended," Kennedy said of the play. Moore "has a good lead at first, you know, with the runner at second, and just upended me, and I really made a bad throw."
Atilano lasted two more innings before giving way to Clippard, who on Friday allowed four runs, three of them earned, in 1 1/3 innings that led to his sixth blown save and a 7-6 loss that began Washington's disquieting trend. On Sunday, Clippard got Moore to ground to short to lead off the eighth and had two out after Lugo, the next batter, doubled but got picked off at second. Corey Patterson then doubled to right, and Tejada delivered the go-ahead hit.
"It's terrible. It feels devastating," Clippard said. "We're battling our butts off. We're playing good, but we're coming up short. It's not fun."