- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2011

The Nationals put Roy Halladay in an unfamiliar position Monday afternoon. They forced the formidable right-hander to look over his shoulder three times and watch as a Washington hitter turned one of his pitches into a souvenir.

By the sheer rarity of what they were doing, the Nationals seemed poised to take the most unlikely victory of their homestand, if not their season.

But, as has become standard for most of the past 12 games - and certainly for the last three - the Nationals fell short. This time, it was a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on a day when they tagged the two-time Cy Young Award winner for four runs and 10 hits.

“It’s a loss,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. “If we got six hits, it’s a loss. If we got 14 hits, it’s a loss. Losses hurt.”

Halladay had given up just two home runs in his 11 previous starts, yet the Nationals - who hadn’t hit a home run off him in 142 at-bats - tagged him for three solo shots by the sixth inning.

Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa, the first two Nationals to homer Monday, entered the game a combined 1-for-18 with six strikeouts lifetime against Halladay.

And when Laynce Nix hit his eighth home run (tied for team lead with Jayson Werth and Espinosa) to begin the sixth, the Nationals had a 4-3 lead. All they needed was three clean innings from the bullpen to avoid their 33rd loss in the last 43 games against the Phillies.

None of that was of any consolation after Sean Burnett entered with one out in the sixth to face three straight left-handers. He proceeded to walk Chase Utley, allow a bouncing RBI single to right field by Ryan Howard and watch what proved the winning run score on a sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez.

“It’s still a loss,” Espinosa said. “You can play the best game of your life - the whole team can play the best game of their life and still lose. A loss is a loss. It doesn’t feel any better [when it’s only by one run].”

Burnett had Utley down 0-2 before walking him six pitches later on a sinker, and he was inches away from inducing a double play on the grounder by Howard. It was simply an outing he’d like to forget - and another avenue for the Nationals to fall. They’re now 5-12 in one-run games.

“Just flat-out terrible,” Burnett said. “It [stinks] to let another win for Livo [starter Livan Hernandez] go down the drain. Score four off Halladay and hit three home runs? That’s a game we should win. … It’s hard to walk away from this one.”

But it’s been hard for the Nationals to walk away from the park for 10 of the last 12 games. They didn’t commit an error on a sun-splashed Memorial Day at Nationals Park. They got to arguably the game’s best pitcher, and while they continued to struggle with runners in scoring position (1-for-8) they had the material to win Instead, the Nationals dropped to 22-31.

“All that stuff about ‘You guys are playing great and we’re playing great and staying in the game,’ at the end it doesn’t add up,” said Alex Cora, who was caught in a rundown between third and home as the tying run in the seventh on a comebacker to the mound. “You just want to win. It would be great tomorrow to score seven and make five errors and still win the game.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about not hitting, or hitting, or making plays, not making plays, it’s about whoever has the most runs on the scoreboard and it hasn’t happened for us lately.”