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Instant replay dooms Nats again

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NEW YORK | The Washington Nationals have lost a major league-leading 33 games this season in all manner of fashion. Their bullpen has blown ninth-inning leads. Their defense has botched routine plays. Their offense has gone silent in the rare instances they actually get good pitching performances.

And now they're having instant replay decisions go against them on a regular basis.

Two nights after losing when umpires upheld Gary Sheffield's questionable homer to left field, the Nationals lost when the same umpiring crew overturned Daniel Murphy's double to right field and ruled it a two-run homer that put the New York Mets ahead for good en route to a 7-4 decision at Citi Field.

Just as was the case Monday, the replay-reviewed homer didn't solely determine the outcome of the game. But it did once again set in motion a turn of events that led to the Nationals' eventual demise.

What had been a tense 3-3 ballgame that saw Washington knock Mets ace Johan Santana to the ropes quickly got out of control following Murphy's double-turned homer in the sixth inning.

The situation: With no outs and a man on first, Murphy tagged a pitch from Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann deep to right. Adam Dunn took a couple steps backward but then turned around to watch the ball, which surely was headed into the stands.

But the ball somehow landed on the warning track and was ruled in play, forcing players from both sides to scurry back into action. Dunn retrieved the ball and managed to fire a throw to cutoff man Ronnie Belliard, who fired to the plate in time to nail Sheffield.

Umpire Larry Vanover and his crew, however, immediately huddled up and decided to review the play. The ensuing five-minute delay left the crowd of 40,171 nervously waiting and trying to get a glimpse of replays that appeared to show the ball glancing off an advertisement hanging some 30 feet above the right-field fence.

When Vanover emerged from underneath the stadium and singled home run, the crowd roared and the Nationals hung their heads, aghast that another borderline call went against them.

Things spiraled downward from there, with relievers Kip Wells and Jesus Colome combining to allow two more runs to score and give the Mets plenty of cushion to secure a series sweep and hand Washington its 15th loss in 18 days.

The way Santana (7-2) looked early, there was reason to wonder whether the Nationals would score at all on this night. Through three innings, the dynamic lefty had allowed one hit while striking out seven. No one had a chance at the plate against him.

And then Dunn changed all that with one titanic blast.

With a man on and no outs in the fourth, he turned on a Santana offering and belted it 465 feet to right-center field, past both teams' bullpens, past a seating area and onto a concourse that doesn't figure to get peppered with baseballs very often.

Then Santana fell apart. He wound up allowing a single and then issued three walks, one to the opposing pitcher and then another to Cristian Guzman with the bases loaded. Apparently, the former Cy Young Award winner wasn't aware that Guzman came to the plate with only two walks on the season.

So the Nationals suddenly had tied the score 3-3, giving Zimmermann new life in an attempt to win for the first time in six outings. The rookie right-hander did a nice job settling down after a shaky start, retiring seven straight from the third through the fifth innings and notching his eighth strikeout of the night with a 95 mph fastball past David Wright.

But Zimmermann (2-2) suffered his own meltdown after that -- with an assist from the umpires -- and the result was another loss for a Nationals club that keeps finding new ways to endure the same frustrating result.

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