The Washington Times - September 4, 2013, 12:23AM

By the time it was over, the box score was ugly enough to at least marginally describe what had transpired in the previous three hours and 38 minutes between the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies.  

It had the usual important facts, like the final score, which marked a 9-6 Nationals victory — their 70th of the 2013 season. 


And then it had the rest. Thirteen walks, four errors, four homers, one balk and five wild pitches between the two teams in one of the sloppiest games of the season. 

The Nationals scored two runs on bases-loaded walks, and another on a strikeout of Bryce Harper that ended with a wild pitch. The Phillies threw 180 pitches and only 88 of them were strikes. 

“That was an ugly game, that’s all I can tell you,” manager Davey Johnson said, shaking his head at the monstrosity that was. “One of the uglier ones I’ve seen. (Gio Gonzalez) had a real rough start, threw a lot of pitches and he hung in there, but it was sloppy behind him.

“That’s not the way you win pennants, I’ll tell you that. We squeaked it out… As ugly as it was, it sure was delightful to win.”

It was a needed victory for the Nationals as they keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Cincinnati Reds had already defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by the time the Nationals’ game went final, so their victory allowed them to keep pace at 7.5 games back for the second wild card spot. 

Setting aside the play on the field for a moment, this was unlike many games the Nationals have played in Citizens Bank Park. 

By the ninth inning, despite it being a close game, fans dotted the swaths of blue. The empty seats were the signal of a franchise past relevance at this point in the season and far from the days when they were ushering in October around these parts. The Phillies fell to 63-75 with the loss. 

The announced attendance of 28,826 was the smallest the Phillies had seen since the first week of the 2008 season. By the ninth inning, individual cheers — and jeers — were easily audible and decipherable. 

That at least meant fewer witnesses. 

Gonzalez had thrown 43 pitches after just two innings of work. After four he’d used 75. He left in the sixth, in the midst of the Phillies’ three-run rally, at 118 pitches for the night. 

Ethan Martin matched his struggles, walking five batters in the span of 4.2 innings. Wilson Ramos crushed a three-run home run in the second inning, his 10th of the season. The Nationals delivered Martin’s knockout punch when he walked Ian Desmond, who added an RBI-base hit in the sixth, to load the bases and Adam LaRoche to bring in the Nationals’ fourth run.  

Justin De Fratus, who relieved him, then promptly issued a four-pitch walk to Ramos to bring in another.

“A win doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be a win,” Gonzalez said, finishing the night after allowing five runs (though only one earned), walking three, striking out six and throwing two wild pitches. 

“At the end of the day, it’s just one of those things. We turn the page, move forward and hopefully tomorrow will be a different game. It’ll be something a little more smoother.”

The victory was not devoid of bright spots. 

Corey Brown, fresh from Triple-A Syracuse, stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat of the season with two outs in the seventh and demolished a 95-mph 1-2 fastball from Luis Garcia. It landed in the second deck in right field. 

“He hit probably the furthest ball he’s ever hit in his life,” Johnson said. “That was a bomb. That was a big run.”

“I think I hit it all right,” Brown said, cracking a smile. “The first time back there’s always some jitters. But I just tried to tell myself just to make sure and get a pitch. Sometimes, I can chase a few every now and then. I just wanted to see my pitch, hopefully see one up, and try to get on base somewhere.”

And Harper, moving better on his sore left hip, provided a few laughs when he caught a fly ball in the eighth inning, put his head down and began to head to the dugout. It was, however, only the inning’s second out, which Harper realized shortly thereafter. He spent the rest of the inning laughing at himself in left field and his teammates were sure to razz him when the inning did end.

“He’s a thrill a minute,” Johnson deadpanned. “I’m just glad he was still on his feet at the end of the game and it didn’t look like he had as much problem with the hip tonight so that’s good news.”

The outcome softened over the issues. The Nationals needed a win, and they got one, despite what it looked like.

Johnson, though, still chafed at what had transpired. Three of those four errors belonged to his fielders. They left 13 men on base and went just 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Wednesday will bring with it the fourth day of September and the Nationals’ 139th game. Their manager could only shake his head at the mistakes he still sees them making at this juncture. 

“We we’re a young team last year and we were in a pennant race and we handled it all right,” Johnson said. “We still aren’t out of it. We’re just not handling things as well. It’s individuals. We have a few cracks in the dam. I need to plug ‘em. I’m running out of fingers.”