Sunday afternoon was a different story. The Nationals had opportunities to score runs, but they ended up being shut out by the Astros, 5-0, at Minute Maid Park.
Washington collected 11 hits, but left 13 runners on base. It's best opportunities to score came in the sixth and seventh innings.
With right-hander Brian Moehler on the mound and Houston leading, 1-0, in the sixth, the Nationals had the bases loaded and one out. But Alberto Gonzalez popped up to second baseman Kazuo Matsui for the second out. Anderson Hernandez followed and struck out to end the inning.
"It was huge, because it was just a 1-0 game," said Moehler, who picked up his sixth victory of the season. "I was just trying to limit the damage and not let the big guys beat us in that situation."
An inning later, Washington had the bases loaded with one out again, this time with right-hander Alberto Arias on the mound. But the Nationals were unable to push across a run, as Ryan Zimmerman popped up to first baseman Lance Berkman and Adam Dunn grounded out to end the inning.
"It's a funny, humbling game," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "This is the same club that scored all those runs on Saturday. We just couldn't execute offensively. We had runners on second with nobody out and we couldn't get him over. Twice with the bases loaded with one out and we couldn't get it done. That's why in this game you have to stay humble."
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann started for the Nationals, and, during the first six innings, he was dominating, allowing just an unearned run.
At one point during the game, Zimmermann retired 14 out of the next 17 hitters he faced.
"To me, he was throwing a shutout, because the run he gave up in the first inning was because of an error. He was overpowering," Acta said.
Things started to unravel for Zimmermann in the seventh inning, when Kazuo Matsui hit a three-run homer to make it a 4-0 game.
"That was a good thing that it happened," Matsui said. "I'm not a home a run hitter. I just try to get on base. I've only hit three home runs, but the home run [today] was big."
Arias was the next hitter, and he walked on four pitches. Acta then pulled Zimmermann, who seemed to lose focus, though the manager thought the rookie had plenty left in the tank.
"I thought it went well until [I faced] the two hitters before I came out," Zimmermann said. "With Matsui, I came with a fastball in, and he put a swing on it. Now [the stats] look like I struggled all day. I thought I pitched pretty well."
The Astros scored their last run on a bizarre play in the eighth inning. With runners on second and third with one out, Nationals right-hander Tyler Clippard was supposed to walk Hunter Pence intentionally to load the bases. Instead, Clippard slipped and stumbled off the mound. A balk was called, allowing Lance Berkman to score from third.
"'Bizarre' is a good name for it. I never seen it before in my life," Acta said. "I've seen guys commit balks, but not while he is walking a guy intentionally."
Said Clippard, "My foot got caught in the dirt. I should have rolled the ball up there. I can't explain it. I don't know. I just tripped."
The Nationals finished the first half with a record of 26-61, the worst in baseball, and they have an outside chance to at least tie the 1962 Mets for the worst record in baseball history. On this date in '62, the Mets were 23-60.
Acta insisted that the Nationals were not going to join that team as they improved over the first half.
"We are going to play better in the second half. I have no doubt about it," Acta said. "We are already better the last month or so. We are headed in a better direction. The first month and a half of the season we felt we were winning once a week, maybe. Since we started that series [against the Yankees], we were right in there. I feel we are going to play a lot better."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less