- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | The list of worst ballgames played by the Washington Nationals in 2009 is lengthy and painful to recall. It includes blown ninth-inning leads, grand slams surrendered, ghastly errors at the most inopportune moments and boneheaded baserunning maneuvers. Sometimes, two or more of those events have converged on the same night, leading to some really spectacular losses.

What transpired Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park may trump them all and claim the title as the Nationals’ worst game of the season. At the least, it deserves consideration.

The final tally - Phillies 5, Nationals 0 - doesn’t begin to tell the true story of this one, because Washington cleaned up its play as the evening progressed. Make no mistake, though, a couple of clean innings during garbage time couldn’t eradicate the stink that defined the first 90 minutes of this contest.

Pick your transgression. The Nationals committed it during the first 4 1/2 innings:

• Starter Garrett Mock retired only three of the first 10 batters he faced.

• Washington’s first three batters all struck out, with Phillies starter Cliff Lee needing only 13 pitches to do it.

• Josh Bard and Alberto Gonzalez each committed baserunning blunders in a span of minutes during the third inning, each while trying to advance off second base. Bard got caught in a rundown after a grounder to the second baseman. Gonzalez ran right into Maxwell’s hard grounder, retiring himself in the process.

• Adam Dunn booted a routine grounder in the fourth, then Mock interfered with Jimmy Rollins as the latter rounded first on the error.

• Mock, after beating out an infield single in the fifth, inexplicably tried to take second when Chase Utley’s throw got away. He was subsequently gunned down by 10 feet.

All this before the game was even halfway complete. Interim manager Jim Riggleman stood stoically in the visitors dugout through it all and afterward insisted he wasn’t upset with his club’s performance.

“I mean, we made an error. That happens,” he said. “We’ve played good defense. We’re going to make an error now and then. I didn’t feel like we really made a baserunning mistake.”

He called the Bard play “a unique situation.”

“You’ve got a man on second, nobody out,” Riggleman said. “We hit the ball to the right side, and the runner’s got to try to advance. But the ball was hit so hard, he couldn’t advance. … The other one was Mock, and I don’t expect him to really know how to react to that situation.”

Mock’s pitching performance set the tone for all of the evening’s events; he surrendered a leadoff double to Rollins in the first and then needed two innings to recover. By the time he returned to the dugout after the second, he had allowed five runs on six hits, three of them doubles, while also requiring a couple of nifty plays from his defense to record the necessary outs.

“The second inning, when the runs came across, you look at how those guys came across the base, you can call it just good pieces of hitting,” he said. ” ‘Cause I made my pitch. I felt totally fine with them. And they just hit the ball where we weren’t.”

To Mock’s credit, he rebounded nicely and salvaged a six-inning start out of the mess he created, permitting only one more hit before departing. Still, the 26-year-old right-hander continues to baffle club executives who rave about his stuff but fret about his lack of positive results.

In 12 starts this season, Mock is 3-6 with a 5.67 ERA. He barely averages five innings an outing.

“With Garrett, he’s got to trust throwing the ball over the plate early in the count,” Bard said. “I think again tonight, he did a better job as far as he made it through six. But Garrett’s going to be a guy, when he finds out how to throw the ball over the plate and trusts throwing the ball over the plate, he’s going to be a guy who goes six, seven, eight innings.”

It didn’t help matters that Washington’s offense had to try to rally from five runs down against Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, who scattered six hits to improve to 7-2 since the Phillies acquired him from Cleveland in July. He has gone the distance three times in nine starts with Philadelphia.

“He was real good,” Riggleman said. “He’s a pro. They’ve got a lot of pros over there. They’re what the rest of us aspire to be.”

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