- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — The doors to the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse remained closed. Twenty minutes after the last pitch of their 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, no one but team personnel was let in or out as the Nationals‘ first four-game losing streak since June set in.

Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo held a lively discussion in the manager’s office that kept the doors shut, the frustration from a lost weekend overflowing with mental mistakes perhaps pervading their usually calm and collected space.

“We did some things not real conducive to winning,” Johnson said, his demeanor calmed after his chat with Rizzo was over.

The Nationals still leave Philadelphia with the best record in baseball (77-50) and a firm five-game grip on first place in the National League East even after a series in which they lost shortstop Ian Desmond (hamstring strain) and Michael Morse (bruised hand).

There was no need, Johnson felt, for a team meeting. No need to sound the panic alarm. There was only the need to move on and play better.

“These guys ain’t easing off the gas pedal,” Johnson said. “They’re grinding. You’re never as bad as you look when you lose, and you’re never as good as you look when you win. Just remember that, you know?

“These guys don’t need a pep talk, they don’t need anything. A couple guys need to get healthy, and we’ll be fine.”

And that was the party line that players parroted. The Nationals have been through losing streaks before, just not many, and not with so much riding on their wins as they inch closer to the season’s final month.

Jordan Zimmermann was superb through four innings, then wasn’t in the fifth. Tom Gorzelanny hung a slider to Laynce Nix that resulted in the former National’s first home run off a left-hander since 2004. Over the course of a 162-game season, things happen. Mistakes happen. Losses happen.

But if their charmed season does take the turn that it has so consistently avoided in the past six months, perhaps the Nationals will be able to point to the moment things changed. Perhaps they’ll recall the lapse that led to their best opportunity to gain momentum Sunday against a nearly unhittable Cliff Lee slip away.

It was the moment Adam LaRoche’s would-be home run in the seventh inning caromed off the top of the railing guarding the right-field seats and, for the first time in all the games Jayson Werth has seen played here, bounced back into the field of play instead of over the fence for a two-run shot.

“I obviously thought it was a homer,” said Werth, who was standing on second base when the ball was hit, an assumption shared by Lee and LaRoche.

Had it bounced over, the Nationals would have cut the Phillies’ lead to 4-2 and, with no outs in the inning, given themselves life. But it fell the other way. It ricocheted back onto the field, and right fielder Nix quickly relayed it in.

LaRoche thought it had cleared and eased up. Werth did the same. Neither scored, LaRoche was thrown out between second and third, and the Nationals‘ possible game-changing rally was reduced to one run on Tyler Moore’s RBI double.

“I screwed up,” LaRoche said, a sentiment Werth reiterated about himself. “I should’ve stopped at second. Got a little confused coming around second. Looked up and saw Jayson breaking for home … Just a cluster.”

“You take nothing for granted in this game,” Johnson said, irritated by the play and the fact that neither player, nor third base coach Bo Porter, picked up an umpire in time to see that they’d ruled it a double from the start. “My two veteran players took it for granted that the ball was out. … You can’t do that. You just can’t do it.”

If anything, their weekend debacle could serve as a launching pad for their next assault on their upcoming opponents. Between the end of their last four-game losing streak and the start of this one, the Nationals went 39-23. But they know they cannot lose focus. They know they cannot panic. They still have 35 games left.

“We could very easily have won any one of those games,” Werth said. “I don’t think there’s any panic or anything.”

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