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Bullpen meltdown costs Nats in 13-11 loss

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Out of pure sympathy for you Nats fans who watched this one to the end, there’s part of me that thinks it’s just cruel to rehash it. But that wouldn’t be journalistically responsible, so here you go. The key moments, in bullet-point form, and reaction:

Sixth inning, Nats up 6-2, bases loaded for Ryan Howard vs. Shairon Martis: Martis starts off with three straight sliders, then tries to get Howard to chase a fastball outside before coming back in with a 1-2 slider. Howard hits it for a game-tying grand slam. “The last pitch, I was trying to throw it in the dirt. But it came right in the zone for him,” Martis said. “I thought if I go fastball away and come back for a slider, he might chase it. But I didn’t throw the best one right there.”

Eighth inning, Nats up 11-7: Garrett Mock starts the inning by giving up hits to Pedro Feliz and Jimmy Rollins, then gives up a long sacrifice fly to Shane Victorino before giving up a single through the middle against Chase Utley that brought Philadelphia within two. Mock threw a 1-2 changeup and tried to get it down, but left it in the strike zone. “With the score the way it was, with the count the way it was, I’ve got to be better than that,” Mock said. “This one’s on me tonight.”

Eighth inning, Nats up 11-9: With two out, Joel Hanrahan replaces Mock in hopes of getting a four-out save. The ball had been flying out of Citizens Bank Park all night (the Nats had hit five homers, the Phillies one to that point), and Hanrahan admitted it entered his thinking. He primarily threw changeups and sliders to Howard, walking him, and missed low and outside four times in five pitches to Jayson Werth. “I tried to avoid the home run instead of going directly at them,” Hanrahan said. “I messed up by walking Howard and by walking Werth.” He said he’s had success trying to throw Howard sliders before. The problem here, like in Martis’ at-bat, was that none of them were close enough to get Howard to chase. Then Hanrahan threw a fastball on the inside half of the plate to Raul Ibanez, who hit it for the Phillies’ second grand slam of the night.

There weren’t too many position players hanging out in the clubhouse after this one—most of them were in back rooms after the game. But Ryan Zimmerman’s first quote of the night was pretty telling. “It’s the second or third one we’ve had. It’s been the story of our season so far — we play a good game and we can’t close it out,” he said. “It seems like the last three or four innings have been that way for us all year. It’s obviously something we need to get better at. You hate to put blame or anything on your teammates, and I’m not here to do that. But we know what we need to get better at, and hopefully we will.”

Now for the question you’re probably wondering about: Is Joel Hanrahan still the closer? Manny Acta wouldn’t commit one way or the other after the game, saying “we’re going to have to sit back and think this through, because we’re not going to make a decision out of a reaction of tonight. It’s not like we have Rollie Fingers and Mariano Rivera in our bullpen to make a decision like that. So we’re going to sit back and think it through and we’re going to come up with a decision.”

OK, enough postmortem for now. Talk to you tomorrow.

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