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A crushing loss

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From the outsider’s perspective, this was a fabulous ballgame tonight. John Lannan and John Smoltz went toe-to-toe, each pitching brilliantly. There were a couple of clutch hits, some nice defensive plays and in the end a towering homer by Albert Pujols off Jason Bergmann to give the Cardinals a 3-2 victory over the Nationals.

You couldn’t find anyone inside the Nats clubhouse, though, who wanted to take any positives out of this game or have any appreciation for the fine performance both teams put forth.

And if you’re a Nats fan, that’s a good thing. Too often earlier this season we saw this team accept a crushing loss. Not this time. I haven’t seen players seethe like this after a loss in a long time. Lannan was mad at himself for spoiling his bounce-back performance by allowing Khalil Greene’s game-tying homer in the eighth. Bergmann was furious at himself for serving up Pujols’ game-winner (though truth be told, it probably wouldn’t have mattered who was on the mound at that moment, you just knew Albert was going to win it).

“I was really pumped up and amped up to face Pujols in a tough situation,” said Bergmann, who had never faced the slugger before. “And I threw a pitch that I regret throwing right now.”

Lannan was equally upset, not wanting to feel encouraged at all about his performance after letting it slip away on the Greene homer.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “I definitely can build off it, and it’s definitely a rebound. But right now, it’s just thinking about that one pitch. Tomorrow talk to me and I’ll probably be in a better mood. But right now I’m still a little ticked off.”

As were all of the Nationals. I think Willie Harris summed it up best as he explained why this loss stung worse than any of the other 82 suffered by this team this year.

“Earlier in the year when we were losing a lot of ballgames, it was almost like, ‘Oh well, it’s just another loss,’” Harris said. “Now I think it hurts us more to lose a game like that. Because we know we can win. Especially after we won those eight games in a row [earlier this month]. We feel like we can play with anybody.”

As an impartial observer, I really enjoyed covering tonight’s ballgame. It was a instant classic, with all sorts of intriguing storylines and a dramatic finish. But I can certainly understand how much this one hurts for the Nats and for you fans. This was a punch in the gut.

I feel bad now that I won’t be around for the rest of this weekend series. I’m actually heading to Viera, Fla., tomorrow to go watch Stephen Strasburg’s first workout as a member of the Nats organization. I have no idea what to expect, since the No. 1 draft pick isn’t even going to throw off a mound during Sunday morning’s workout. But it will certainly be nice to see him wearing some sort of Nationals gear and actually performing some sort of baseball activity after all the anticipation and hype of the last two months.

In the meantime, esteemed veteran ballscribe Gerry Fraley will be covering the rest of the series here in St. Louis before Ben rejoins the club in San Diego on Monday. I’ll provide some Strasburg updates (if there are any) from Viera, but the blog may otherwise go quiet for the next two days.

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Mark Zuckerman

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