WASHINGTON -- When Ryan Ludwick sent his game-winning single up the middle, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond stretched out and knocked it down. He just could not get a throw home quick enough to catch Jorge Cantu at the plate.
Despite his diving effort, it was not a great play, Desmond said. And in a 5-4 loss in front of 23,169 on Sunday at Nationals Park, the play shouldn't have even mattered.
"We haven't been scoring any runs. That's the only way I can say it," Desmond said. "We have runners in scoring position, and we can't score them. It starts with me, I've been leaving runners out there. I have to do something different, and we all have to do something different."
Early against the Padres, something different meant small ball.
The formula worked early and twice in the middle innings, but disappeared in the final frames, allowing San Diego to take the lead against closer Drew Storen in the ninth.
Storen took the loss after allowing a run in his third consecutive outing. The rough stretch comes on the heels of a 21-inning scoreless streak.
"That guy over there [Storen] is a pretty good one, and being able to get him twice in this series is pretty good," said Ludwick, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Storen said he always takes the mindset that he has no margin for error, but the Nationals had plenty of opportunities to put San Diego (22-31) out of the game.
Washington (22-30) stranded two in the eighth, and Desmond hit into an inning-ending double play in the seventh with two men on.
Jayson Werth began the sixth with a single and scored to tie the game at 4, but after the Nationals put the next two runners on base, they could not find a way to complete the rally.
Wilson Ramos bunted runners to second and third, but Jerry Hairston Jr. hit into a fielder's choice and Laynce Nix was out at home attempting to score from third.
A wild pitch by Chad Qualls bounced away from catcher Kyle Phillips, but the ball hit home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora, which allowed Phillips to pick Hairston off first.
"I was just trying to be a little aggressive, and it backfired," Hairston said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, it gets past the catcher and to the backstop, and we're second and third there. It just hit the umpire -- one of those freak plays."
Bernadina drove in pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel in the fifth, but San Diego right fielder Chris Denorfia threw out Bernadina, who tried to stretch his double into a triple. Desmond then struck out looking to end the threat against Padres starter Dustin Moseley.
Washington could never complete its rally, although it constantly responded, even after starter starter Yunesky Maya squandered an early 2-0 lead.
"This isn't going to cut it," Desmond said. "There's no other word to say, other than frustrating. I don't know what's going on. We have to find it within ourselves, do something, and start scoring runs for our pitching staff. They've been pitching great, and we can't score runs for them. We have to find a different answer."
Maya cruised through three innings before struggling in the fourth and loading the bases in the fifth. With one out potentially separating Maya from his first Major League win -- and the pitcher's spot on deck next inning for Washington -- manager Jim Riggleman gave Maya the chance to escape his own jam.
Instead, San Diego first baseman Brad Hawpe fouled off five pitches before sending a two-run single back up the middle. Maya departed with two men on, and a Chase Headley single off lefty reliever Doug Slaten allowed a fourth run to score.
"It's a 2-1 ballgame, and you try to let your starter get five [innings]," Riggleman said. "We try to do that and can't always, but we tried it today and it didn't work for us."
Maya, who started five games for Washington last season, was the first starter the club used this year outside of its original five-man rotation. His early lead came courtesy of Washington's best offensive inning, the first.
The Nationals stole a base, hit-and-ran, and sacrificed their way to a two-run lead. They had nine hits over the next eight innings, but continuously came up short.
"It's better than the alternative," Riggleman said. "I like the opportunities out there. As we said many times, if you keep putting them out there, sooner or later, you're going to drive them in. But it's a tough stretch we're going through."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.