Nationals force extras but fall in 14th

Nationals force extras but fall in 14th

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies had Christmas in July at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night. The stadium was filled with Christmas music throughout the game. The biggest gift the Nationals wanted was a victory, but it was snatched away from them as they lost, 7-5, in 14 innings.

It's true that reliever Chris Booker gave up the game-winning home run to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard to lose the game. However, the game was actually lost in the bottom of the ninth inning. Washington had a 5-4 lead with two outs. With closer Chad Cordero on the mound, Jimmy Rollins came to the plate and quickly was behind, 0-2. On the next pitch, Rollins hit what looked like a routine fly ball to left-center field.

Both left fielder Ryan Church and center fielder Ryan Langerhans went after the ball. They both said, "I have it", but neither heard the other because of the 44,931 screaming fans at the park. The two nearly collided as the ball dropped in for a base hit.

"He said that he was calling it," Langerhans said of Church. "The crowd was extremely loud on that ball. I was calling it the whole way. I looked over at the last second and I just braced myself for a collision. I didn't extend my arm long enough to catch the ball."

Church did extend his arms and tried the to catch the ball, which rolled away from him and got stuck underneath the wall. But it got even worse. As Rollins was rounding second and going to third, Church threw the ball to shortstop Felipe Lopez, but the throw short-hopped Lopez and he had to chase down the ball.

Phillies third-base coach Steve Smith saw that Lopez was having problems with the ball and sent Rollins home. After grabbing the ball, Lopez still had a shot to get Rollins at the plate, but the ball short-hopped catcher Brian Schneider and Rollins scored the tying run. Church was charged with an error on the play. He would later apologize to Cordero for making a big mistake.

"We battled back, we scratch back. We had a chance to steal a win. That's why I'm so angry. It's my fault when it comes down to it. I lost the game," Church said. "Two outs, two strikes, it's tough because I was even further down left field. It made it that much longer of a run. "

Manager Manny Acta usually looks at the positive side after losses, but he didn't sugarcoat what he saw in the ninth inning.

"We couldn't catch the fly ball, we couldn't hit the cutoff man, we couldn't catch a throw to keep it close, we couldn't throw a runner out," Acta said. "There about five things wrong on that play and it ended up costing us.

"I tell you what: People talked about communication and talking, you can't hear each other when you have 30-something thousand people screaming, but somebody has to catch the ball. That's the bottom line. It wasn't even like a ground ball or something. It was a fly ball. I feel bad for Cordero because he made his pitches. It (should have) been an easy one, two, three save for him."

The misplay in the ninth spoiled a nice comeback by the Nationals and great work from the bullpen.

In the top of the ninth inning, it looked like the Nationals had the game won. The bench came through in the clutch and helped the Nationals take a 5-4 lead.

Washington was down 4-2 when the Nationals scored three runs in the ninth. With runners on first and second and one out, Tony Batista, pinch-hitting for Nook Logan, took Antonio Alfonseca's 0-1 pitch and hit a double to right-center field to score Church and cut the lead by one run.

After it was announced that Robert Fick would pinch-hit for reliever Luis Ayala, Phillies manager Charlie Manual took Alfonseca out of the game in favor of left-hander Mike Zagurski. Acta then put in the right-handed hitting Jesus Flores, who doubled to right-center field to drive in Brian Schneider and Batista.

"They were key at-bats," Acta said. "We are looking in that situation for a guy like Batista to get an extra-base hit and he got it. With Flores, we feel comfortable with him against lefties because Robert had struggled against lefties. They delivered for us."

The relievers did another good job until the final frame. They pitched 8 1/3 innings and gave up two runs in the 14th inning. Acta acknowledged the team was going to be a little short when it comes to help from the bullpen on Thursday afternoon. Saul Rivera pitched three innings and Ayala, who is being monitored because he is coming off elbow reconstruction, pitched for the second day in a row. Those two players will not be available for the game. It also doesn't help that Washington sent Chris Booker down to Triple-A Columbus after the game.

"We are going to be short in the 'pen. That's no secret," Acta said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.