- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2012

The pose was one of complete confusion. Arms out to the side, head cocked slightly in the air, eyes searching. By the end of Sunday afternoon’s 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, two Washington Nationals outfielders had perfected it.

The Nationals first battled Yovani Gallardo, and then the sun, on a crisp fall day as the Brewers made sure two costly dropped fly balls counted and secured at least a split of their four-game set.

Washington’s march to the National League East crown took only a minor setback with the loss, the magic number holding at six with 10 games left to play, but the Nationals will need a win Monday to avoid losing the series to the Brewers, who are making a surprising late charge for the second wild card spot.

With the Atlanta Braves beating the Philadelphia Phillies earlier Sunday, the Nationals‘ lead in the division also shrunk to 4½ games, their smallest since Aug. 28. The Braves are idle Monday, and the Nationals will head to Philadelphia for a three-game series beginning Tuesday in the hopes of closing out Atlanta’s slim hopes.

But first they have to forget what transpired Sunday.

“Nothing worked today,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, summing things up succinctly and bluntly.

On an afternoon in which the Nationals‘ play was not nearly as sharp as the standard they’ve set for much of the season, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each lost an out in the sun.

“It was a good day to give the jersey away,” Johnson said, referring to the team’s postgame promotion where everyone in uniform gave his game-used jersey to a lucky fan.

“I don’t wanna wear that one. That one was unlucky. Just a tough day. … Not much offense. Then we gave them a few runs. Tough to win.”

It became infinitely tougher when their outfielders struggled to combat a bright sun.

Harper allowed what had seemed to be a routine fly out by Ryan Braun to fall in front of him as he looked on helplessly in the fourth, and Werth shielded himself from Carlos Gomez’s bases-loaded fly in a three-run seventh when he lost track of it. Braun scored the Brewers‘ first run, the start of a two-run fourth the Nationals would erase in the fifth, but with their advantage back at 3-2 in the sixth, Gomez helped break things open.

“Harper was having so much trouble, I was thinking about moving Werth over there,” Johnson said with a slight chuckle. “I guess it didn’t matter.”

“You can’t catch what you can’t see,” Harper said. “Nothing you can do about it. Sun monster got me.”

Werth declined to address the loss, saying only “You guys saw the game,” as he made his exit from the Nationals‘ clubhouse.

But as the Nationals tick days off the calendar and move closer to reaching the point they’ve ascended to all season, all they could do was shrug and move on. Whatever the game was, it was over.

Chien-Ming Wang made his first start since June 19 and gave the Nationals four innings, allowing eight hits and two runs but pitching better than his line indicated.

“That’s probably the best we’ve seen him all year,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who raised his average above .300 for the season (.301) by reaching base four times. “A lot of hitters were saying he had a lot of late life on his ball. They were kind of impressed.”

But he was the first of six pitchers, many who’d watch bloop hits, an error or a ball just out of reach cost them. The Nationals gave up 15 hits, the sixth time all season they allowed that many, and committed two errors.

“Just one of those days nothing seemed to go right,” Johnson said.

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