- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

The Washington Nationals issued 11 walks Thursday night. They unleashed four wild pitches. They were charged with a passed ball, an error and a balk. They struck out 12 times. They constantly flirted with disaster and left a crowd of 18,007 at times either booing or gasping from exhaustion.

And yet they somehow found themselves in position to win when the ninth inning began, which made a 9-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals all the more difficult to swallow.

The Nationals’ 16th loss in 21 games this season featured a wild yet effective performance from starter Daniel Cabrera, a couple of timely hits that gave the home team the lead after six innings but ultimately another implosive effort from a beleaguered bullpen that has come to symbolize Washington’s struggles.

The Cardinals rallied to score six times against Nationals relievers, tying the score in the seventh off Mike Hinckley and Logan Kensing and winning in the ninth with a five-run rally against pseudo-closer Julian Tavarez.

Handed a 4-3 lead, the new-look bullpen quickly handed it right back. Hinckley entered in the seventh and issued a one-out walk to Ryan Ludwick, prompting manager Manny Acta to summon Kensing for his first appearance since his acquisition from Florida on Wednesday. Kensing promptly gave up a single to Albert Pujols, walked Chris Duncan on four pitches and then surrendered a sacrifice fly to Rick Ankiel that tied the score at 4-4.

That paled in comparison with a ninth-inning fiasco in which Tavarez (0-2) retired the first man he faced, then went walk-double-walk-hit batter-infield single. Throw in an error on catcher Jesus Flores and a run-scoring balk by demoted closer Joel Hanrahan before he threw a pitch, and the end result was as calamitous an inning as the Nationals have endured this season.

Which is really saying something.

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