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Nats lose to Angels 4-3, but Johnson enjoys the challenge

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Hours before Davey Johnson stood at home plate and exchanged his first Nationals lineup card with Angels manager Mike Scioscia, he mentioned that there was a lot of stress that came with managing a baseball team. Stress, though, was something he liked about the job.

And he knew what he was getting into having watched the Nationals'  high-wire act that seems to rarely, if ever, include any kind of cushion and is never short on late-game heroics.

"Those are tough games," he said, somewhat prophetically. "But that's the way I like them."

In that case, Washington welcomed Johnson back in the best way possible Monday night. The Nationals were down to their final out when Danny Espinosa hit a game-tying home run, a blast that put him in the record book. The one thing that would have been better, of course, was a win. Instead, the Nationals fell 4-3 to the Angels in the 10th on an RBI single by Maicer Izturis.

"You've got to take the good with the bad," Johnson said later. "I liked the way we battled. We played pretty good out there. They got (16) hits, we got six and that was still a very close ballgame. There's tomorrow. I still enjoyed that one even though it was a loss."

There were some memorable moments. The Nationals hit three home runs, and Johnson narrowly escaped being hit by Torii Hunter's foul ball in the 10th inning.

If there was one regret, a short bullpen compelled Johnson to leave John Lannan in longer than he felt he should have. Drew Storen was away from the team for a day to attend his grandmother's funeral in Indiana, and reliable set-up man Tyler Clippard was down with a tired arm.

"Being a little short in the 'pen, it cost us a little bit," Johnson said. "I probably went a little farther than I should have with Lannan, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to get a win."

Lannan, who admitted he "just wasn't all there today," already had blown a two-run lead courtesy of  home runs by Michael Morse, his 15th, and Ryan Zimmerman, his third. The left-hander opened the sixth with no one warming up and allowed a single. He erased it one batter later with a double play, but the next three batters reached and finally Johnson came to retrieve his starter. He left on the hook for a potential loss, but given the fact that 11 of the Angels' 16 hits came off him, he was fortunately only three runs had crossed.

"I caught too much of the plate," Lannan said, as well as chastising himself for falling behind too often. "(My sinker) was a little different. It was there, but it wasn't consistently there. But that's going to happen. You've got to battle through it. I wish I could've went further in the game, but it just doesn't happen sometimes."

With one swing of the bat, Espinosa delighted the group of friends and family who came to watch the Orange County, Calif., product. His 15th home run made him the first rookie second baseman to hit 15 before the All-Star break.

"He only hit that thing like 500 feet," Johnson said. "I'm glad I've got a good rotator cuff because he almost broke my arm when he (high-fived) it."

In the last week, Espinosa has come through with a hit to either extend the game, as he did during the Nationals' dramatic ninth-inning rally in a 6-5 win over Seattle, or provide the decisive swing, as he did in Sunday''s 2-1 win at the Chicago White Sox. Nine of his home runs have come when the Nationals were within a run. Monday night, though, it simply wasn't enough.

"We just, we hit three home runs, all solos," Johnson said. "Our offense, it's going to get there, but it's a little frustrating today."

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