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Washington Nationals lose after Ryan Braun's walk-off single in ninth lifts Brewers, 4-3

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010

MILWAUKEE -- The cell phone alarm would not stop ringing in the Washington Nationals clubhouse late Saturday, one of few sounds that pierced the silence, a final annoyance to cap a maddening night. "Someone shut that phone off," one player grumbled. Jim Riggleman and Mike Rizzo spoke in the manager's office, trying to figure who would relieve Sunday. Everyone figured out how to swallow a brutal loss.

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Saturday night, the Washington Nationals lost their starting pitcher in the third inning, used every player on their bench, were granted their first run one inning after they actually scored it and needed six pitchers, four of whom spent part of the year at Class AAA Syracuse and one of whom spent Friday there.

Nothing came easy for the Nationals, and they saved the hardest part for last in their 4-3, walk-off loss to the Milwaukee Brewers before 41,987 at Miller Park. After the Nationals tied the score with a desperate rally in the top of the ninth, they lost in the bottom of the ninth when Drew Storen surrendered a game-winning, one-out single to Ryan Braun.

Circumstances forced the Nationals to piece together a pitching lineup and a batting order with scotch tape. Starter J.D. Martin left after recording seven outs with a back injury and afterward was placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Nationals' offense could not reinforce 5 2/3 solid innings by their overtaxed bullpen. Once their dormant offense finally struck, the Brewers ended the game and dropped the Nationals to 1-49 after trailing following the eighth inning.

"It had the feel to it like they were blowing us out," Riggleman said. "But we hung in there. We really could have won the ballgame."

Instead, they watched it slip through their fingers. The game-winning rally began when Storen allowed a one-out single to Rickie Weeks. "Just hung an 0-2 breaking ball," Storen said. He walked Joe Inglett, bringing up Braun, who had already hit a home run in the first inning. Braun lasered a line drive off the left field fence, over Josh Willingham's head, a punch straight to the gut.

"You just really learn there's no margin for error in that situation," Storen said. "I didn't feel overwhelmed. I thought I had good stuff. It's obviously a disappointing result, but I learned a lot from it."

With the Nationals down 3-2, Ryan Zimmerman led off the ninth with a single off Brewers closer John Axford, and Willingham followed with another. Riggleman had Adam Dunn, given a scheduled day off, at his disposal on the bench. "I was going to get Dunn to the plate at some point," Riggleman said.

But when? Well, Riggleman knew if Zimmerman and Willingham had made outs, Dunn would have hit third in the inning, pinch-hitting for Michael Morse. Once they both reached, Riggleman toyed with using Dunn then, letting him take a shot at a three-run home run.

Or, as he ultimately decided, he could use Nyjer Morgan to sacrifice bunt. (Afterward, Morse said he understood and supported the decision.) Morgan did better than sacrifice, deadening a perfect bunt toward third. He cruised into first, loading the bases with no outs.

Now, Dunn could be deployed, hitting for Iván Rodríguez. Dunn delivered a fly ball to center, deep enough for Zimmerman to beat Carlos Gomez's throw by an eyelash. The Nationals had tied it up.

With the pitcher's spot coming up, Riggleman had to pinch-hit with Wil Nieves, his lightest-hitting position player. Nieves flared to shallow right. Inglett sprinted in, and Willingham retreated to the base.


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