As the crowd at Nationals Park roared deep into the night — the loudest and longest cheers reserved for the opposition — the numbers blazed out at them from the center-field scoreboard.
Next to the Washington line score, all that reflected back was zeroes.
The Nationals packed a park-record 44,685 fans into the seats at Nationals Park on Saturday night. Between a lack of offensive output, defensive miscues and a few unfortunately-placed pitches, the Nationals sent most of them home happy. In a crowd that was decidedly pro-Philadelphia, the Nationals’ 5-0 loss to the Phillies didn’t have too many lamenting their fortunes on their way out.
“I thought [the crowd] was great,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “I loved to see the packed ballpark. Hopefully, they’ll be rooting for us before long and there won’t be any room for those other guys.
“They’re good fans and they like their baseball. We didn’t do much to get our fans cheering.”
In their 12th shutout loss of the season, the Nationals generated eight hits off Friday night’s scheduled starter Roy Oswalt (pushed to Saturday after rain halted his evening following the warmup). But they left seven men on base and were never able to cash in on any of Oswalt’s pitches up in the zone.
If Friday night at Nationals Park was baseball poetry: the so-called face of the franchise crushing a walk-off, two-out grand slam against their division rivals, Saturday brought them crashing back down to earth. Phillies fans filled the park from the early afternoon, booing Jayson Werth, erupting for their team and giving Oswalt a standing ovation as he walked off the mound after his eight shutout innings.
“I think Oswalt pitched a good ballgame,” Johnson said. “Eight strong innings. [But] to me, he left a lot of balls up and we just didn’t center them. We threatened a couple times, but we just couldn’t really mount anything and nobody could crank one.”
The Phillies didn’t have that problem. The fans reached their apex in the sixth inning when Hunter Pence sent John Lannan’s 0-1 offering into the left-field seats to extend the lead to 3-0. His home run began a three-run inning.
Pence rounded the bases to a heroes welcome — a sight that churned the stomachs of Nationals’ fans and provided a reminder to the organization of how far they’ve still got to climb.
“They were cheering for the other team,” first baseman Michael Morse said, admitting it’s different to deal with at home. “You wish they were cheering for you.”
“Their fans are unbelievable,” Lannan, who lost to the Phillies for the 12th time in his career, said. “They come wherever they play and we had a record crowd tonight. We’ve got to get used to it. Hopefully, someday the crowd’s that big and they’re all cheering for us.”
Lannan fell to 1-12 with a 5.87 ERA in his career against the Phillies. His outing turned on one play in the fourth inning — a possible inning-ending pickoff of John Mayberry Jr. Lannan caught Mayberry as he broke for second and threw the ball to Morse. The first baseman then threw to Ian Desmond, who was playing the batter, Carlos Ruiz, to pull and had a long way to run to get to second base. The ball lipped out of Desmond’s glove and Mayberry was safe. The inning continued, Ruiz walked and Wilson Valdez followed with a two-run triple to give Philadelphia all the runs they needed.
“I was still 2-0 with Ruiz,” Lannan said when asked if the game turned on the missed pickoff. “I knew it was two outs, I needed to get an out there. Once again, I left the ball up. In those situations, you’ve got to really bear down and get out of there, and I just didn’t.”
With a bright future ahead, the Nationals know that the days when they fill the park with their own fans can’t be that far away. Right now, their record attendance numbers have all come in games where the opponent is either the Phillies, Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. Saturday night’s record attendance numbers topped a game against Boston in 2009.
After the game, a t-shirt was displayed in the visitors’ clubhouse that read ‘Phillies-Nationals’ with Saturday’s date. Below that? “Citizens Bank Park South.”
“They support their team,” Desmond said. “We had our fans here, too. We can hear them.”