MILWAUKEE | For a team entrusting so many baseball games to pitchers with track records measured in months, not years, consistency is frequently the price the Washington Nationals are going to pay.
It was last month when the Nationals' first attempt at stretching a four-game winning streak to five was undone by Shairon Martis' inability to keep the Toronto Blue Jays down.
Their second attempt, Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, wasn't nearly as futile as that five-run loss June 21. But had Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard been a little better, the Nationals' winning streak probably would still be alive.
It was halted at four Wednesday night because they made the kinds of mistakes pitchers their age haven't learned how to limit yet. Spotted a four-run lead by wild Brewers starter Manny Parra, Mock and Clippard combined to let in six runs from the third through the sixth innings as a potential fifth consecutive win turned into a 7-5 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.
"The competition [Mock] is going against is the No. 1 thing," interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "I know he's a confident guy, but he just hasn't been able to finish an inning off or finish a hitter off at certain times. Tonight, he left with a win and we couldn't hold it for him."
The Nationals scored four runs in the first three innings, not so much because of their own offensive prowess as Parra's generosity. The left-hander walked five batters in the first three innings, including three in the Nationals' three-run second, helping Washington take a 4-2 lead.
But with Mock on the mound, that lead always felt somewhat elastic, and it's worth asking whether the Nationals should have scored more with Parra putting so many runners on base.
Only one of the five batters he walked scored, though Nick Johnson's walk drove in a run. The Nationals left men on first and second in the first, ended the second with the bases loaded and stranded a runner on first in the third.
That mattered when Mock started making just enough mistakes to let the Brewers back in the game.
The slider he hung on the inner half of the plate to Ryan Braun in the third could wind up in an instructional video for young pitchers filled with harrowing footage about what can happen with that particular pitch, especially against a hitter as good as Braun. The All-Star did his part, smoking it to the center-field wall and just over the top of a leaping Nyjer Morgan.
The shot hit the yellow stripe at the top of the wall and was originally ruled a home run until video replays showed it never cleared the stripe.
Still, it gave Braun a triple and brought Craig Counsell in to score. Braun crossed home plate seconds later, racing home on Mock's wild pitch to Prince Fielder.
From there, the mistakes came just frequently enough to keep the Brewers close - Mike Cameron's solo homer in the top of the fourth, Corey Hart's leadoff double in the sixth and an ensuing single from Cameron that knocked Mock from the game.
"The hit that I gave up to Corey Hart, that was a seven-pitch at-bat, and he didn't put a good swing on any of those," Mock said. "Go watch the swing. He wasn't even close to putting a good swing on that. It found a hole. Cameron hit it to a hole [on the single]. ... Just as every outing I've ever had, there's always a couple pitches I want back."
Clippard, another pitcher who keeps giving the Nationals bite-size doses of his enormous potential, took over for Mock from there and got a quick double play off a slick running stop by Ryan Zimmerman at third base. But then he couldn't finish the inning, walking No. 8 hitter Mike Rivera and floating a 3-2 change-up over the middle of the plate that pinch hitter Casey McGehee blasted over the left-field wall for a go-ahead homer.
"Walking Rivera's what killed me," Clippard said. "McGehee's been hot for them; he did what he does. I think everybody who had the Nationals' jersey on felt like we were in a good spot right there. But I didn't do my job. I walked Rivera, and that's what killed me."
The Nationals' resurgent offense looked ready to come back from the blow in the top of the eighth, but they stranded Morgan, who reached on a bunt single and advanced to third on a wild pitch. The Brewers added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning.
And it all went back to the rough spots from Mock and Clippard that, for now, the Nationals just have to live with.
"We should've won this one too," Clippard said.