Washington Nationals' rally falls short against Cincinnati Reds

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CINCINNATI -- Televisions had switched off across the District, heads had hit pillows and the focus shifted to anything but from the Washington Nationals. There was no point in staying up, not after Luis Atilano bombed, not after a 160-minute rain delay, not when the Nationals trailed by seven runs after five innings. They were done.

Inside the Nationals clubhouse, rain pelting Great American Ball Park and the Nationals entrenched in another losing streak, the players felt otherwise. "We were all in here saying, 'Man, I want one more crack,' " shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Everyone wanted to go after it."

Improbably, before 1,500 remaining souls, the Nationals roared back into the game. Their resiliency, though, could not prevent a familiar outcome. Despite a six-run outburst in the sixth inning, the Nationals dropped their fourth straight, an 8-7 defeat that ended at 12:40 Wednesday morning.

Within their latest loss -- the seventh in nine games and 15th in 22 -- the Nationals proved their dismal record, now at a season-worst 40-54, will not deter them. Having reached perhaps the dreariest moment of their season -- down seven runs on a soggy field after three straight losses -- the Nationals had little reason to believe they could win. They did anyway.

"Sometimes it doesn't show on the scoreboard, but we don't give up," said Michael Morse, whose three-run triple drove the failed comeback. "It doesn't matter what the score says. We think we're in the game."

"That's the one thing I've noticed about this team and the players on this team," Adam Dunn said. "It would be very easy, last year, this year, to just kind of pack it in, with a game like this especially. Not one time since I've been here that's happened."

As the Nationals walked off the field, Manager Jim Riggleman hollered at an umpire and stuck his finger his face, incensed at the game's final out. Closer Francisco Cordero capped a 1-2-3 ninth by striking out Adam Dunn looking. Dunn flipped his bat and yelled at home plate umpire Marty Foster before skulking back into the visitors clubhouse.

"I obviously thought it was a ball," Dunn said. "He obviously didn't. His opinions counts more than mine."

The Nationals could take solace in Stephen Strasburg's start, which would come less than 19 hours after this game ended, and the fact that they produced more offense in one inning than they had during the first four games of the season's second half.

"It's tough," Riggleman said. "Guys are battling. Losing wears on you. I keep telling them it's going to turn for us. It's got to turn so they believe what I'm telling them."

The Nationals seemingly doomed their comeback before it began. In the fifth, after they pulled the tarp off the field, Doug Slaten replaced Atilano, who lasted four innings and surrendered five earned runs after allowing a walk, a walk and a three-run homer to the first three batters he faced. Slaten yielded three runs, two earned, and turned a 5-1 hole into an 8-1 gulch.

Before the delay, Reds rookie Mike Leake had stifled the Nationals. But the rain forced him from the game and the Reds chose to replace him with Micah Owings, who had not pitched since July 4. Owings was once the centerpiece of a trade for Adam Dunn. The first batter he faced Tuesday night? Dunn. Owings walked him. Ryan Zimmerman followed by lining a two-run home run just over the right field fence.

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