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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nats Lose Finale 3-2; Swept By Giants

Washington, DC--In what has become a familiar refrain, the Washington Nationals pitched decently in all but the middle innings, put some base runners on but couldn't push them across, and ultimately lost to the San Francisco Giants 3-2 in front of 26,209 patrons brave enough to withstand the sweltering conditions at Nationals Park Monday night.

Monday's victim was Tyler Clippard, called up earlier in the day to make the start that normally would have gone to John Lannan. The team did not want Lannan to start on three days rest though, so Clippard was recalled from Triple-A Columbus. Like his Clipper teammate Garrett Mock, Clippard would be in a Nats uniform only one night by design, and both pitchers were aware of the situation before their starts. Clippard displayed a tremendous change-up, but had little command or control of his fastball. Regardless, he kept the Nationals in the game, as he allowed three earned runs on five hit and four walks, with six strikeout along the way, in four and one-third innings.

In Clippard's defense, the double by Giants' catcher and clean-up hitter Bengie Molina that produced what would be the game-winning third run should have been caught, and the results would have been much different for Clippard and the Nats. On a 2-2 count in the top of the fifth, Molina lofted a lazy fly ball to the warning track in left center field. There was no question this ball did not have enough gas to make it over the fence -- it barely made it to the warning track. But the lumbering Wily Mo Pena got a bad break on it and did not have nearly enough foot speed to make up for the initial mistake, giving Molina and the Giants a gift that they did not deserve.

Pena has always been a brutal fielder, but in the past that fact has been mitigated by his production of power. Before this season, Pena averaged a home run every 18.6 at bats. It's not a Bonds-like pace, but enough to be a productive major league hitter. This season, however, Pena has one lone home run in 131 at bats, and is hitting .206/.267/.255, absolutely brutal for a back-up catcher, let alone a starting left fielder. Combined with a major league worst range in left field, and you've got a regular every-day player making outs at the bat and giving them away in the field.

Brian Sanches came on for Clippard, who had thrown 98 pitches and probably would not have come out for the sixth inning regardless. Sanches was able to shut down the burgeoning threat, getting Aaron Rowand to ground to shortstop and Rich Aurilia to line one right at Pena that he had to catch out of self-defense.

The Nats scored once in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Jesus Flores, plating Lasting Milledge, who had doubled earlier. Washington added one more in the eighth when it looked like they would finally get to the San Francisco bullpen for a bunch of runs. Milledge started the two-out rally with a walk, and Dmitri Young -- in his first action in five days due to a "viral illness" -- singled. Flores then took a four pitch walk, ending reliever Tyler Walker's evening and loading the bases. Giants Manger Bruce Bochy went to rookie Alex Hinshaw to face Kory Casto. After the second ball, a pitch high and tight to Flores, Molina tried to pick off Willie Harris (running for Young) at second, only to overthrow shortstop Omar Vizquel, allowing Milledge to trot home, cutting the lead to 3-2. Hinshaw, clearly unnerved, then threw two more wide ones to Casto, filling the bases once again. Bochy had seen enough by this point though and summoned his closer, Brian Wilson, who coaxed Felipe Lopez into a soft liner to right to end the threat.

The Nats had their chances in this game, with nine hits and reaching on four walks. But without having a force in the middle of the line-up to provide any power, the Nationals have to string multiple hits together to score a single run, and they just weren't up to the task on this hot, muggy evening.

Matt Cain was the winner for the Giants, running his record to 3-4. He went six and one-third innings, allowing one earned run on eight hits and one walk, striking out six. Wilson earned his 18th save of the season. Cristian Guzman and Young both had two hits for the Nats. Sanches, Jesus Colome, Charlie Manning and Luis Ayala were spotless in relief, allowing no runs, no hits and just two walks in four and two-thirds innings, keeping the Nats in the game. But as the story has unfolded for much of this season, the hitters were powerless and unsuccessful in manufacturing any runs in support of their pitchers.

Washington begins a nine-game, three city road trip Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Tim Redding (6-3, 4.15) faces Paul Maholm (4-5, 4.48) in the series opening at 7:05 pm.

NATS NOTES: The lose drops Washington's record to 25-40, last in the NL East, 14 games behind division-leading Philadelphia. The Nats' 25 wins on the season are above only Colorado, with 24.

Ronnie Belliard was activated from the 15-day disabled list after the game. Clippard was returned to Columbus to make room on the roster.

Single-A Potomac clinched the first-half title in the Carolina League Monday night with a victory over Winston-Salem (CHA).

Cristian Guzman recorded his team-leading 25th multi-hit game. He is second among NL shortstops in extra-base hits with 27, training only Jose Reyes of the Mets with 29. Guzman has 20 doubles, two triples and five home runs. He is tied for fourth in the ML overall in doubles, and third in the Major Leagues in multi-hit games.

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