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Nats cope with a rare loss

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Nats cope with a rare loss

PHOENIX -- Kurt Suzuki arrived in Washington on Aug. 4 and professed his excitement to join a Nationals club that was in first place and gearing up for the stretch run. Little did he know what he was in for.

The Nationals won Suzuki's debut, 10-7 over the Marlins. Then they won the next day to wrap up a homestand. Then they swept the Astros in Houston. Then they won two straight in Arizona, improving to 8-0 since the veteran catcher joined the roster.

What, then, was Suzuki to make of Sunday's series finale against the Diamondbacks, a 7-4 loss that conjured up emotions not felt around here in quite some time?

"Anytime you lose, it stinks no matter what," he said. "But I mean, that's the first time I lost here. So it was a little different."

This game certainly felt much different than the eight that preceded it. The Nationals were sloppy out of the gate and put themselves in a 7-0 hole, though they did try to mount a furious rally late and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

Ultimately, they couldn't overcome a shaky start from Ross Detwiler, who lasted only 4 23 innings and surrendered five runs (four earned). The left-hander wasn't feeling well, dealing with a sinus problem and stomach illness, but he refused to blame that for his poor outing.

"If I'm feeling bad and I still get my pitches down, then I get outs and it looks a whole lot better," he said. "I don't think that's the excuse why I did bad at all."

Detwiler indeed had trouble keeping the ball down in the strike zone, inducing only three groundball outs. The Diamondbacks lineup didn't exactly pound him into submission, but their three hits did all go for extra bases. Detwiler also walked one batter and hit two others, eventually pulled by manager Davey Johnson after snagging a scorched comebacker from Jason Kubel that nearly took his head off.

"Sometimes they always say some guys play their best when they're sick," Suzuki said. "It does take a toll on you and your body and makes you kind of feel foggy out there. It's tough going out there like that."

Detwiler wasn't helped a whole lot by his defense, particularly during an ugly stretch in the bottom of the second in which Ryan Zimmerman fired a wayward throw from third base for his ninth error of the season and then Suzuki threw wide on a stolen-base attempt to allow the afternoon's first run to score.

"Things like that are going to happen," Zimmerman said. "We've just got to make sure they don't happen a lot."

If they looked sloppy in the field early on, the Nationals looked downright asleep at the plate for much of the day. They managed just one baserunner in six innings against rookie Patrick Corbin, and that one (Bryce Harper) was immediately picked off first base.

Harper actually should have been standing on second base at the time if not for a bizarre (and violent) run-in with umpire Mike Muchlinski, who unfortunately stood in the rookie's way as he tried to advance to second on a wild throw. Harper bowled over Muchlinski with a tackle that might have resulted in a fine from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and upon regaining his feet trotted back to first base.

As it turns out, had Harper simply continued running, he would have been awarded second base for umpire interference, even had the Diamondbacks thrown him out.

Muchlinski is a minor-league umpire who was called up for the final two games of this series after crew chief Dale Scott took a foul tip to his chin and suffered a concussion.

"He was way out of position," said Johnson, who argued briefly with Muchlinski. "He was embarrassed. "He said: 'I'm more embarrassed than anyone.'"

The Nationals finally got to Corbin in the seventh, but they still trailed 7-2 entering the ninth. That's when a lopsided loss suddenly turned interesting again.

Cesar Izturis and Michael Morse greeted reliever Takashi Saito with back-to-back doubles. Jayson Werth (who was not in the starting lineup) brought home one run with a groundout, then Tyler Moore singled home another.

All of a sudden, it was a 7-4 game and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was forced to summon his closer, J.J. Putz, to finish this one off. And when Putz walked Steve Lombardozzi to load the bases, Roger Bernadina now stepped to the plate representing the tying run with two outs.

"I mean, there's no give up on this ballclub," Johnson said. "They're going to keep battling you. ... They weren't planning on using their closer. Get him in, tying run there, anything can happen at that point."

Putz, though, buckled down and struck out Bernadina to end the game and leave the Nationals trying to decipher this strange, new sensation.

A loss? They barely remembered what that felt like.

"As much as I wish, we weren't going to win every game the rest of the season," Zimmerman said. "We're going to lose, just like everyone else loses. We won the series. We'll go to San Francisco and try to win that series. ... Finish this road trip up strong, and it'll be a great road trip."

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.