- - Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Washington Nationals’ bullpen has been nearly impenetrable for the first half of the season, but Sunday it left the door open at the most inopportune of times.

Wild pitches from relievers Michael Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard brought in the tying and winning runs as the Colorado Rockies stole a 4-3 victory in the final game before the All-Star break — a somewhat deflating end to one of the best first halves in franchise history.

“It’s one of the few times the bullpen hasn’t done a good job,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said.

Starter Jordan Zimmermann was sharp on a hot, steamy day at Nationals Park, holding the Rockies to one run and three hits. Johnson pulled him after seven innings and 95 pitches, turning the game over to one of the team’s strengths to lock down Zimmermann’s sixth win. On this day, however, that strategy backfired.

“What a great effort,” Johnson said. “It’s just a shame that we wasted it for him.”

Sean Burnett came in to pitch the eighth and gave up the first home run of the season to light-hitting pinch-hitter Eric Young to trim the Nationals’ lead to 3-2. Burnett then allowed back-to-back singles to Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro, earning a quick hook.

“It’s unfortunate to go into the break with the last couple of innings that we had, but you can’t let today affect what we did the last three months,” Burnett said. “I kind of ruined that a little bit.”

Gonzalez came in to match up against three straight left-handed hitters, and struck out all three. But by that point, the damage had been done, as he tossed a wild pitch to the first batter he faced, Carlos Gonzalez, allowing Fowler to score and tie the game 3-3.

It was only the second time in his 17 appearances with the Nationals that the lefty had allowed a run.

“You try to get the strikeout and you throw it in the dirt — that’s what you do,” Michael Gonzalez said. “Nine out of 10 times, the catcher is going to stop it. You don’t put too much thought into it. My intention was to throw it in the dirt. I had confidence in [catcher Jhonatan] Solano getting it. It just didn’t happen. It is what it is.”

With extra off days on the horizon, Johnson turned to Clippard to start the ninth. But he gave up a double to Jordan Pacheco, and after a sacrifice bunt moved Pacheco to third, Clippard uncorked a wild pitch that gave the Rockies a 4-3 advantage.

That ended a streak of 19⅓ scoreless innings for Clippard (2-3), who suffered his first loss since April 26.

“I pulled a change-up. I can’t remember the last time I threw a wild pitch, so it’s kind of frustrating to do it in that situation,” Clippard said. “What are you going to do?”

Zimmermann, who lowered his earned-run average to 2.61 but again found himself on the short end of another hard-luck start, was supportive of his bullpen mates.

“They’ve been doing a great job all year, having our backs in some tight situations earlier in the year. This one got away, and we have to move past that,” he said.

Shortstop Ian Desmond continued his tear despite playing with a sore oblique, connecting for a titanic two-run blast in the fourth inning to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead, his sixth homer in his past 11 games. Steve Lombardozzi appeared to put the game on ice in the seventh with an RBI single to make it 3-1.

But the bullpen didn’t answer the call on this occasion, and Clippard said that might have been a good thing in a strange sort of way.

“I look at it as good timing,” he said. “You don’t ever want to get too comfortable or too confident out there. So this is a little check for ourselves, and we can kind of regroup and move forward with a new beginning in the second half.”

But first the Nationals will enjoy some rest and relaxation after accumulating a National League-best 49 wins and holding a four-game lead over Atlanta in the NL East.

“Everybody feels good, and they’re looking for the break,” he said. “They’ve battled hard. We’ve had a lot of close games and everybody on the ballclub, from the offense to the pitching to the bullpen, has been outstanding. It’s a good time for a break and then come back looking forward to the second half.”

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