- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

MILWAUKEE | For a team entrusting so many baseball games to pitchers with track records measured in months, not years, consistency is frequently the price the Washington Nationals are going to pay.

It was last month when the Nationals’ first attempt at stretching a four-game winning streak to five was undone by Shairon Martis’ inability to keep the Toronto Blue Jays down.

Their second attempt, on Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, wasn’t nearly as futile as that five-run loss on June 21. But had Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard been a little better, the Nationals’ winning streak would probably still be alive.

It was halted at four Wednesday night because they made the kinds of mistakes pitchers their age haven’t yet learned how to limit. Spotted a four-run lead by wild Brewers starter Manny Parra, Mock and Clippard combined to let in six runs from the third through the sixth innings, as a potential fifth consecutive win turned into a 7-5 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.

The Nationals scored four runs in the first three innings, not so much because of their own offensive prowess as Parra’s generosity. The left-hander walked five batters in the first three innings, including three in the Nationals’ three-run second, helping Washington take a 4-2 lead after three innings.

But with Mock on the mound, that lead always felt somewhat elastic, and it’s worth asking whether the Nationals should have scored more with Parra so willing to put runners on base.

Only one of the five batters he walked scored, though Nick Johnson’s walk drove in a run. The Nationals left men on first and second in the first, ended the second with the bases loaded and stranded a runner on first in the third.

That mattered when Mock started making just enough mistakes to let the Brewers back in the game.

The slider he hung on the inner half of the plate to Ryan Braun in the third could wind up on an instructional video for young pitchers full of harrowing footage about what can happen with that particular pitch, especially against a hitter as good as Braun. The All-Star did his part with it, smoking it to the center-field wall and just over the top of Nyjer Morgan’s leaping attempt.

The shot hit the yellow stripe at the top of the wall and was originally ruled a home run until video replays showed it never cleared the top of the stripe.

Still, it gave Braun a triple and brought Craig Counsell in to score. And Braun crossed home plate seconds later, racing home on Mock’s wild pitch to Prince Fielder.

From there, the mistakes came just frequently enough to keep the Brewers close — Mike Cameron’s solo homer in the top of the fourth, Corey Hart’s leadoff double in the sixth and an ensuing single from Cameron that knocked Mock from the game.

Clippard, another pitcher who keeps giving the Nationals spoon-fed doses of his enormous potential, took over for Mock from there and got a quick double play off a slick running stop by Ryan Zimmerman at third base. But then he couldn’t finish the inning, walking No. 8 hitter Mike Rivera and floating a 3-2 change-up over the middle of the plate that pinch hitter Casey McGehee blasted over the left-field wall for a go-ahead, pinch-hit homer.

The Nationals’ resurgent offense looked ready to come back from the blow in the top of the eighth, when Morgan’s sprinter’s gait charged a one-man rally.

He dropped a bunt single, then took second on Todd Coffey’s wild pitch. But Morgan didn’t stop at second. He wheeled around the bag and raced into third before Counsell had a chance to apply a tag, giving Washington a runner at third with one out.

Morgan got stuck there, though, and the Brewers scratched across an insurance run in the eighth.

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