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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bullpen Implodes to Waste Lannan's Effort; Nats Lose 8-2

Denver -- For six innings, Washington Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan cruised through the Colorado Rockies line-up like it was a minor league team. He mixed his off-speed pitches with fastballs on the corners to baffle last year's National League Champions. But a mistake to pinch-hitter Ian Stewart, turned around for a game-tying two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, opened the door and the rest of the Rockies came crashing through in the eighth, scoring six runs against three Nationals relievers on just three hits, and Colorado wrested a victory where before it looked like another defeat. The loss snapped Washington's modest four-game winning streak since the Major League trade deadline of July 31.

Lannan's line for the night tells the story so often repeated for him this season: seven innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits and two walks with 8 strikeouts -- but no decision. It was just another hard-luck game for Lannan, whose record stands at 6-11 with a credible 3.55 ERA this season.

"He's given us a lot of quality starts without much to show for it," manager Manny Acta said. "He hasn't been the beneficiary of a lot of run support."

After Stewart's homer -- his fifth of the season -- things got plain weird for the Nats in the bottom of the eighth. Luis Ayala relieved Lannan and retired Jeff Baker on a ground out to first, but could do no more good. Slugging OF Matt Holliday flipped a double down the right field line that landed on the chalk, 1B Garrett Atkins drew a four-pitch walk and Ayala then hit C Chris Ianetta. Manager Manny Acta had seen all he cared to of Ayala (L, 1-7, 5.81) and called for lefty Charlie Manning. Rockies OF Brad Hawpe met Manning with a bloop single to shallow center that scored both Holliday and Atkins, with Ianetta moving up to second. SS Troy Tulowitzki, batting just .238 for the season, walked to load the bases. Manning managed to strike out Stewart for the second out, and then gave way to Saul Rivera, who had pitched brilliantly the night before. But there would be no magic in his right arm Tuesday night, as he hit OF Willie Tavares, walked Jeff Baker and allowed an infield single to Holiday, each play scoring a single run and further burying the Nats.

The ugly totals for the bottom of the eighth: three hits (none hit hard), four walks and two hit-by-pitches, resulting in six earned runs and one big loss for the Nationals. "You always see something new and I don't remember the last time I saw four walks and two hit by pitches in an inning," Acta said.

The Nats got their runs courtesy of poor defense again by the Rockies. In the second inning, Austin Kearns (2-for-4) singled, took third on an error by Garrett Atkins on a bunt play by Lastings Milledge, and scored on a sacrifice fly by C Jesus Flores. In the fifth inning, Ryan Langerhans led off with a walk, took second on a sacrifice by Lannan, advance to third on an Emilio Bonifacio ground out and scored on a wild pitch by Rockies starter Jorge de la Rosa.

Washington had a chance to increase their lead in the top of the seventh. 1B Ronnie Belliard led off with a single to left field and Langerhans followed up with another clean single, putting men at first and second with no outs. Lannon struck out trying to sacrifice, but Belliard stole third base anyway to get into scoring position. However, in one of the strangest plays in a night of strangeness, Bonifacio hit a one bouncer to third right in the direction of Belliard, who couldn't decide to advance or retreat. Instead, he did neither and 3B Clint Barmes fielded the ground ball, tagged Belliard quickly and threw to first to get the speedy Bonifacio by a step. Just like that, rally over.

And that's when the real weirdness started.

The Nationals go for the rubber game Wednesday at 9:05 eastern, sending Odalis Perez (4-8, 4.16) to the hill against Jeff Francis (3-7, 5.67), making his first start in more than a month on the disabled list with inflammation of his left (pitching) shoulder.

NATS NOTES: The loss drops the Nats record to 42-71, 19.5 games behind division-leading Philadelphia.

Colorado pitcher Manny Corpas pitched one inning, allowing two hits, to earn the win. His record is 2-3, 6.55.

Washington SS Alberto Gonzalez had an MRI on his injured backside. The team announced he has a "contusion" of the hamstring and is day-to-day.

Ryan Zimmerman returned to the line-up at 3B and went 1-for-3. SS Cristian Guzman and OF Elijah Dukes did not play.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

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