The Washington Times - June 18, 2013, 12:19AM

PHILADELPHIA — Eighteen minutes after the Washington Nationals had pounded on the dugout railing, raised their fists in the air and practically danced Chad Tracy into the dugout in celebration, they walked off the same field with their heads bowed. 

Another gut-wrenching loss, this one 5-4 to the Philadelphia Phillies. Another opportunity missed, this one in a manner perhaps even more cruel than the 34 losses that came before it. Another day they ended with a record below the .500 mark. 

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Tracy lofted a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning, game-tying home run into the right field seats off  Jonathan Papelbon as the clock struck 10 p.m. on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. For the second time in three days, he gave them life. 

By 10:20, the Nationals were filing into the visitors’ clubhouse in silence. While a post-game clubhouse is often a flurry of activity, with players moving from the training room to the weight room to the showers and the buses, many Nationals sat silently in the chairs in front of their lockers. 

A row of lockers full of stewing and regret. 

Kurt Suzuki, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche chatted quietly. Ian Desmond rolled his chair over and appeared to join in. Drew Storen stared blankly ahead. None of them said very much. 

“You tie it up late and everybody’s emotions are running high, everybody’s feeling good,” said Tracy, who hit his second game-tying home run in the last three games. 

He sighed. The silence around him was deafening. One game served as a microcosm for the Nationals’ inconsistent season: an uncanny ability to see their positives frittered away almost immediately, obscured by the negative. 

Another game filled with wasted opportunities lay in their wake. 

They hit — tagging former Nationals lefty John Lannan for two runs off six hits — but not enough, and rarely when they could do damage. They pitched — with Dan Haren getting through six but allowing four earned runs on seven hits and an uncharacteristic three walks — but not well enough to keep the Phillies from taking a two-run lead in the third and refusing to relinquish it until they had the Nationals down to their final strike. 

“And then they come out and put some good at-bats together at the end,” Tracy said. “And they steal it right back from you.”

The home run was the third for Tracy on the season as the Nationals’ primary pinch hitter begins to reap the benefits of playing American League teams this season, and the handful of consistent at-bats he received over the weekend in Cleveland. 

But with Tracy’s heroics coming at the last possible minute, manager Davey Johnson was left in a pickle. He did not want to warm up Storen unless he was sure he’d need him in the game, and lefties are hitting .353 off Storen this season.  

When the situation arose, however, via Tracy’s homer, Johnson couldn’t get Storen ready in time. Instead he turned to lefty Fernando Abad thinking that if Abad could retire Ben Revere to open the frame, he’d go to Storen to face Michael Young.  

“With the first guy left-handed, if he gets him, I go to Storen,” Johnson said. “If he doesn’t, he’s got to hold the guys on. It’s that simple.” 

Revere singled. Abad threw over to first base five times to keep him close. And still, as Jimmy Rollins sent a one-out base hit to left, Revere’s jump was so strong he easily made it to third base. Two batters later, all it took was Domonic Brown’s bloop up the middle to win it for Philadelphia. 

“I think I made a good pitch,” said Abad, who has been near-perfect since his call-up a month ago. “Two broken bats? They had luck.” 

The Phillies good luck, or perhaps the Nationals’ bad, led them on their slow walk to the clubhouse.

It led them to their chairs. To their quiet deliberation. 

Perhaps they could appreciate Tracy’s home run when the sting had dissipated.

“Any time you get a hit like that off a guy who doesn’t give up many runs to tie the game, for them to come back and score a run right there, it’s tough to handle,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who reached base three times. “We just can’t get anything going. Can’t get any sort of streak or run going. But there’s still a lot of baseball left. You can’t really dwell on that stuff. 

“Right after the game, there’s really nothing to think about but the bad stuff. When you come back and tie a game, and then they win it and you lose the game, it’s tough. Any time you lose a game, like that or another way, it’s a loss and it’s tough to handle. But later tonight or whatever when you kind of sit back and think about the game you can look at the positive stuff we did and kind of take that into tomorrow.”