- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2011

There were plenty of futile images from which John Lannan could choose to spend most of Saturday night reliving. A night that was supposed to be Lannan’s first chance to become the fifth pitcher in Nationals history with a 10-win season devolved so quickly and in such an ugly fashion, the options of moments to forget were abundant.

But the most telling one from the Nationals' 9-3 loss to the major league-worst Houston Astros was not of another well-placed hit sneaking through the Nationals’ infield in a horrific, six-run third inning. It was of Lannan, crouched next to the third-base line, hands on his head, after his throw toward home sailed away, allowing two more runs to score.

Of Lannan, in disbelief at the mess he’d made.

“I really don’t show that emotion on the field,” Lannan said. “I showed some there. Really down on myself for making that errant throw.

“Any out right there would have changed the whole complexion of the inning. But, you know, I didn’t get the out. … That was my night.”

He had some help, and a little bad luck when a one-out double by Jordan Schafer was mishandled against the wall in the left-field corner by Michael Morse that allowed him to take third base. But it was all Lannan from there.

Lannan surrendered six straight one-out base hits, four of them scoring runs. He also fielded Jose Altuve’s weak bases-loaded grounder to the right of the mound, tried for the force at home plate and watched two more runs score when the throw sailed wide of catcher Jesus Flores.

“In reality I think I should just let the ball go and let [third baseman Ryan Zimmerman] have it,” Lannan said. “But it happened so fast that I just wanted to kind of get an out there. I think I had a little more time than I thought.”

Lannan faced one more batter after his miscue. But even Carlos Coporan’s suicide squeeze bunt would die perfectly on the right side of the infield to bring home the Astros’ sixth run.

“He just didn’t have any location,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said, trying to find the words to explain his team’s 13th loss in its last 17 games. “I didn’t like the pitch selection. I didn’t like location. Just one of those days sometimes you’ve got to have. That’s been one of his few ones. But it sure gets one-sided when it happens.

“What was it, three innings and they had eight hits? One of them was a squeeze, but that’s not making a lot of good pitches.”

Lannan walked off the mound moments later, holding his glove dejectedly in his left hand, and reaching the dugout for the third-shortest start of his career. In Lannan’s 125-start career, he’s been unable to get past the third inning on two other occasions: earlier this season in Philadelphia when he surrendered six earned in two innings, and on Aug. 22, 2009, a seven-earned-run, 1 ⅔-inning performance against Milwaukee.

“I just didn’t get the job done,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”

“When I needed to make pitches, I didn’t,” he added. “And when I did, they were able to get it through the infield.”

The Nationals meager offensive effort against Houston didn’t help. In the past 13 losses, a stretch that dates back to the same day an earthquake shook the Washington area, the Nationals are averaging 2.5 runs per game. Their outbursts are few and far between, their support as a unit lacking. The same things that plagued the Nationals in May are still haunting them in September.

“Some days we’re not having good days pitching, some days we’re not hitting,” said Morse, one of the lone offensive contributors with his 27th home run in the sixth inning.

“It’s baseball. As a team, we’re just trying to put it together.”

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