To hear Washington's players tell it, they wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's always fun to bring teams in that are going for stuff, and try to play the spoiler," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
On Thursday, rookie righty Joel Hanrahan, who has just three games of Major League experience, battled with Phillies ace Cole Hamels for five innings, but received no offensive support in a 4-2 loss.
Philadelphia headed home with the series victory, but a solid performance provided some consolation for manager Manny Acta.
"It was a well-fought series," he said. "Every game was interesting. I'm still happy with the way we're playing."
While Hamels was a smoothly polished machine, going 6 2/3 shutout innings, Hanrahan showed his rough edges at times, but was able to hide them often enough to get key outs that kept the team in the game.
One problem that plagued him was his pitch count. Hanrahan threw 101 pitches in five innings, forcing the bullpen to make an early appearance. In four outings, Hanrahan has finished the sixth inning only once.
"I need a little bit more out of him innings-wise because of the bullpen," Acta said.
When the time came to make pitches, Hanrahan fought off heat, humidity and the hot Phillies bats to get key outs. He said that he's been fortunate enough to get out of most of the jams he's worked into this season.
He enjoyed success against Ryan Howard, who struck out three times, and Aaron Rowand, who fanned twice.
"I breathed a little sigh of relief when I got through them," Hanrahan said. "I guess I didn't concentrate as much on the lower part of the lineup, and it came back to hurt me."
Hanrahan's only blemish was a two-run home run by catcher Carlos Ruiz, who went deep in the second inning after Hanrahan walked Jayson Werth.
One thing the young pitcher will be working on in future outings is not letting batters on base without a hit.
"The biggest thing that's held me back is that the last couple years I've had a lot of walks," he said.
For a lesson, he needed to go no farther than the opposing dugout, where Hamels made 102 pitches last nearly seven innings.
He swept through the Nationals inning after inning, and even after the hitters started picking up on his fastball, he adjusted.
"That's why he's so good," Acta said. "He's got three above-average pitches."
Washington finally struck in the eighth with solo home runs from Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young. Reliever Tom Gordon allowed the runs, and was heartily booed by the large contingent of Phillies fans as he left the game.
The Nats then put runners on first and second before a double play ended the inning. Austin Kearns left the game on the play with cramping in his right hamstring.
There's no rest for the Nationals, who face the division's top team, the Mets, in a three-game series starting on Friday. Tom Glavine is scheduled to take the mound for New York, but Acta said the team knew the game plan.
"It's not going to get easier," he said. "Our pitching is going to have to keep the score down and keep us in the game until we can do some damage offensively."
Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.