PHILADELPHIA — A languishing team plays at Citizens Bank Park these days, but on Friday night the place evoked the same horrors the Washington Nationals endured here for years. The Nationals sauntered into the lifeless stadium Friday night with the best record in baseball, 191 / 2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies, a tormentor turned doormat. And then just about nothing went right.
In their 4-2 loss to the Phillies, the Nationals played the entire game without shortstop Ian Desmond and nearly all of it without slugger Michael Morse. With Desmond scratched because of a mild hamstring strain and Morse departing after a pitch drilled his right hand, Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick shut down a depleted lineup as counterpart Edwin Jackson labored through six innings.
The Nationals found relief afterward when X-rays revealed Morse’s hand had not been broken. He still will likely sit Saturday, at least, Manager Davey Johnson said. The Nationals will likely be without Desmond through the weekend, too. Desmond hyperextended his knee running to first base Wednesday night, which resulted in the hamstring strain.
“It was definitely a blow for us, but it’s kind of what we’ve been dealing with all year,” rookie Tyler Moore said. “Guys stepping up in different situations. Just another day.”
The Nationals fought their way into the game in the seventh inning when Moore launched a two-run, pinch-hit homer to pull his team within one run. They threatened in the eighth, too, but Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth struck out after Washington put two men on base with one out.
The Nationals had one more chance in the ninth, when Danny Espinosa led off with a single off second baseman Chase Utley’s glove. Down two runs, Espinosa tried to prevent a game-sealing double play by stealing on closer Jonathan Papelbon. But Espinosa, representing a run that effectively meant nothing, was thrown out at second.
“He’s given the green light, stay out of the double play,” Johnson said. “I don’t like the decision, obviously, because the next hitter comes up, they’re going to be playing behind him. So, we’ll address that tomorrow.”
The Phillies have tumbled into irrelevance this season as the Nationals have surged to the top of the sport. But they have played to a draw this year head-to-head, the series standing at five games each after the Phillies have won four of the past five. And the Nationals can still be mostly punchless on offense, especially without two of their best hitters.
“It changed the game a little bit,” Johnson said.
They knew beforehand Desmond would miss the game, not even available to pinch hit. Desmond took batting practice, but the dull pain in his hamstring signaled to him that playing would risk a long-term problem.
“At no point was it ever excruciating pain by any means,” Desmond said. “I just felt it a little bit. I told [Johnson] I feel it a little bit. It was his decision to say, hey, let’s back it down and see if we can get it right.”
Morse left the game under more harrowing circumstances. In his first at-bat, he tried to check his swing on an 84-mph change-up against Kendrick. As Morse’s hands moved toward the mound, the ball crushed the fingers of his right hand against the handle of his bat. Morse crouched in pain.
“Any time you get hit in the hands, it’s kind of nerve-wracking,” said Morse, who missed the first 50 games this year with a right lat strain.
The nerves dissipated afterward, when X-rays came back negative. Morse’s hand still swelled up around the base of his pinkie, all purple and blue. The Nationals are 47-25 in games he has played this season.
“Hopefully he’ll be all right in a few short days,” Johnson said.
Kendrick needed little help, anyway. He entered with a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings, and he plowed through the Nationals. When the seventh inning began, the Nationals had three hits, two of them doubles by Bryce Harper.
Philadelphia, meantime, had given Jackson fits. The Phillies kept drilling singles and working counts, and in the fourth they finally struck with a two-run single by Jimmy Rollins. Jackson needed 85 pitches for the first four innings, at which point the Nationals trailed, 3-0.
Jackson kept taking the ball, running his pitch count to 107 with two more innings to preserve the bullpen, yielding seven hits and two walks while striking out eight. Washington trailed by three after six innings.
“I’m not looking for any extra credit for battling,” Jackson said. “As a pitcher, that’s our job — to go out and try to keep the game close. Especially when you have the day you don’t necessarily have your best stuff, you just have to go at it and say, ‘Here it is.’ ”
But the Nationals responded as they have all season, surging back into the game by relying on the last person you would expect. Kendrick retired the first two batters he faced in the seventh, one out away from another zero. But Kurt Suzuki worked a walk and Johnson tabbed Moore to pinch hit in Jackson’s spot.
Moore fell behind 0-1 in the count, taking a strike he felt unfit to swing at. “It just wasn’t in my zone,” Moore said. “It was a little away. It wasn’t a pitch I wanted to hit. That’s stuff I learned from Chad [Tracy] and [Mark] DeRosa. It just kind of rubbed off.”
He crushed the next sinker, a rocket that landed over the left-field fence. Kendrick crouched on the mound and stared at the turf. Moore’s thunderbolt had knocked Kendrick out of the game and made it 3-2. It also gave Moore seven homers in 126 at-bats this year, or one in every 18.
The Nationals had won 20 consecutive games in which they homered, but not Friday. Their comeback had not been enough, and they could only be glad Morse’s injury was not more serious, remind themselves of their place in the standings compared to Philadelphia and show up Saturday ready to play.