Nats fall after 'pen loses four-run lead

Nats fall after 'pen loses four-run lead

WASHINGTON -- It's no secret that the bullpen has been the strength of the Nationals this season. But on Thursday night, it imploded.

Washington had a four-run lead after six innings, but ended up losing to the Phillies, 7-6, in front of 19,966 fans at RFK Stadium.

Washington right-hander Jason Bergmann had one of his better outings, lasting six innings and giving up two runs on four hits. Manager Manny Acta felt that Bergmann's fastball showed a lot of life, and Bergmann agreed with his skipper's assessment.

Bergmann, however, got off to a slow start when he gave up a two-run homer to Ryan Howard in the first inning, but Bergmann made adjustments and shut out the Phillies for the next five. Bergmann ended up striking out seven batters and walking two others.

"I think my outing went OK," Bergmann said. "I thought my location was pretty good at some points. I worked the hitters a little differently than I did last time. I was able to come inside a little bit more. I think it really paid off.

"It's probably a better fastball than I've had so far. It was able to stay in the zone. I felt great today. That's what I wanted to end the year."

It appeared the Nationals gave Bergmann enough run support to win the game. After two innings, Washington had a comfortable 6-2 lead against left-hander Kyle Lohse.

In the first, Ronnie Belliard scored the game's first run on Ryan Zimmerman's double to center field.

In the next inning, Washington scored five runs. Belliard and Ryan Church highlighted the scoring with each hitting a two-run double.

After Bergmann left the game, Philadelphia teed off on relievers Luis Ayala and Arnie Munoz. The original plan was to have Ayala face just three batters in the inning and let Munoz take over. But Ayala faced only two batters because he didn't have good command of his pitches.

Greg Dobbs took the first pitch and singled to right field. Carlos Ruiz was the next hitter and walked on five pitches.

"He didn't throw a ball near the plate to the eighth hitter [Ruiz], so that kind of sealed his fate right there," Acta said of Ayala.

Munoz followed and didn't do any better. Jayson Werth entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Pete Laforest and took a 3-1 pitch and blasted a mammoth three-run homer, which landed in the left-field upper deck.

After he doubled and went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins came home on a fielder's choice.

"That's why it's so important to get the eighth hitter in the bottom of the order because they have a tremendous lineup," Acta said. "You don't want to be putting guys on when you know that Rollins and Victorino, [Chase] Utley and Howard coming up. The guys that are considered the bottom of the order, you have to at least throw strikes."

In the top of the eighth, with Jonathan Albaladejo on the mound, Ruiz walked and stole second before Rollins doubled down the first-base line to send Ruiz home. Albaladejo said the walk to Ruiz was the biggest blow in the inning.

"I was flying open on a couple of pitches, and that hurt me a lot," Albaladejo said. "The last pitch to Rollins, I wanted to throw a back-door slider. It just happened to stay right at the middle of the plate. I didn't think it was a real bad pitch, but it wasn't in the right spot."

The Phillies' bullpen, on the other hand, was outstanding. They relievers pitched seven shutout innings. They struck out seven batters and walked four in the game.

"Their bullpen deserves the credit. We came out and scored a bunch of runs, and they just shut us down after that," Acta said.

The Nationals have now lost two consecutive games and dropped their record to 68-85.

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