PHILADELPHIA — As the ball cracked off Shane Victorino’s bat and sailed down the left-field line in the third inning Thursday night, John Lannan made a last-ditch prayer.
“Go foul, go foul, go foul,” he said, as the 0-1 slider hooked inside the foul pole and sent the 45,316 in attendance at Citizens Bank Park into a frenzy.
Lannan’s plea, of course, wouldn’t be answered, but that’s nothing new for him against the Phillies. The Washington Nationals’ 7-3 setback Thursday night was Lannan’s 10th career loss to Philadelphia in 13 starts — giving him six more losses to them than to any other team he’s faced.
“I don’t even know what the right word is,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, who had the unenviable task of pulling Lannan with no outs in the third and five runs already on the board.
“Whatever it is with him and the Phillies, I don’t know what that is now, 0-10 or something? That’s too much for the quality of stuff that John has for any club to do that. I don’t have any explanation other than they’re always a very good ball club … As much as he’s going to see the Phillies in this division, we’ve just got to do better than that.”
No team in the major leagues has owned Lannan like the Phillies over the past four years. Lannan, who was ejected from his major league debut against Philadelphia in 2007 at Citizens Bank Park, now owns a 6.44 ERA against them. Five members of the Phillies’ lineup have a .300 or better career average against him. Three are hitting .500 or better, including Raul Ibanez who came into the series on an 0-for-35 skid and left it riding an 8-for-11 run with five extra-base hits.
“I felt good coming into this game,” Lannan said. “The past really doesn’t affect the game that you’re about to play, so that didn’t play a part in it, but I was just up in the zone.
“Maybe a couple of years ago I probably [let the history against Philadelphia get to me] but not anymore. There’s nothing really that should be any different. I don’t feel any different coming into these games. It just so happened where they caught me on a day where I just didn’t make pitches and I paid for it.”
Lannan had made it through just two innings. The first six Philadelphia batters reached in the third, the second of those six was Victorino. Four more runs would come home in the inning, hiking Lannan’s ERA to 5.09 and handing him his third straight loss.
It also marked the end of the Nationals’ season-long streak where their starting pitcher lasted at least five innings. Washington had been the only team in the majors with such a mark.
“It was kind of a thing every time a starter went five we’d give each other a handshake,” Lannan said, knowing he’d brought the run to an end. “Our starting pitchers have done a great job, and it just wasn’t my day.”
But while Lannan may be the poster boy for the Nationals’ struggles against the Phillies, he’s certainly not the only one to falter when facing them.
Since 2009, Washington has lost 32 of 42 against Philadelphia and is 9-30 at Citizens Bank Park — including losses in the the last seven straight.
And once Roy Halladay got a six-run lead, he wasn’t going to relinquish it. The Nationals were able to score twice off the former Cy Young Award winner in the fourth, including an RBI double by Adam LaRoche. They added a run in the eighth, with Halladay since departed, when Jayson Werth plated Danny Espinosa with a sacrifice fly.
Halladay worked seven innings, striking out 10. The right-hander threw 81 of his 110 pitches for strikes.
“He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever faced,” said Jerry Hairston Jr., who waged a 13-pitch at-bat with Halladay in the fourth. “I’ve faced a lot of guys, and as a hitter you hate to give a guy credit like that, but you don’t know what he’s going to throw. Sometimes you think it’s going to sink when it cuts and then sometimes you think it’s going to cut when it sinks and then he has that slow curveball to keep guys off balance.
“It’s one of those things. A guy like that with a five-, six-run lead? He knows how to shut the door.”
Which he did, for the Phillies’ fifth straight victory over the Nationals this season and one that sealed the sweep.