Breakdowns lead Nats to loss

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These are the kinds of games that routinely turn against the Nationals, and they’re the kinds of games good teams pull out. There’s your difference on Friday night.

Washington had a 3-0 lead, but allowed a run in the second inning and a run in the third because it couldn’t keep the Rays’ track stars from stealing bases, and after Nick Johnson dropped a foul pop that would have ended the eighth inning, pinch hitter Gabe Kapler — he of the .173 average — hit a go-ahead homer off Ron Villone.

Manager Manny Acta said a few words to the team after the loss, encouraging them to keep playing hard and trying to clean up the errors. But listening to Villone afterward, it sounds like it will take something more drastic to get the team going.

“When you lose games, and you continue to lose games, and you find ways to lose games and it’s everybody in here, you can’t stomach it anymore,” he said. “There’s nothing to appreciate about how you played, or someone played well. You can’t even think about it. You just think about why we lost. Somebody’s got to do something about it, take a giant leap, I don’t know. Somebody’s got to stand out and do something special for us to win.”

The Rays’ speed, as I said earlier tonight, is going to be a problem all weekend. Tampa Bay now has 101 steals this year, by far the most in the majors, and has only been thrown out 18 times. The Nationals entered the night 13th in the majors in stolen bases against and 19th in stolen base average against — mediocre numbers, to be sure, but not terrible.

Still, when you have rookie pitchers like Craig Stammen worried about holding runners, they get rattled, and do things like Stammen did tonight, hitting Carl Crawford with B.J. Upton on first. That led to a double steal, a Josh Bard throwing error and the Rays’ second run.

“The best way to stop them is to keep them off the bases,” Acta said. “Walking them and hitting them is not going to help, and it showed.”

Jordan Zimmermann against Andy Sonnanstine tomorrow at 6:08 p.m., though those of you in the D.C. area won’t get the game on MASN2 until 7 p.m. That’s because the first hour of the game is in the national blackout window imposed during the Fox national TV game.

Why the early start? This is happening after the game.

I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’ll be trying to write a game story. On the other, I’m intensely curious to see how he’ll alter his, um, prose to make it more family friendly. I’ve been told he had to sign a contract saying he’d do clean versions of all his songs.

Yep, I think I’m sticking aroud for that.

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