Nationals battle back, but fall to Phils
In opener, Balester gives up seven runs in just 1 2/3 innings
PHILADELPHIA -- After acquiring Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Paul Lo Duca last offseason, Nationals general manager Jim Bowden believed the team would be better than the 2007 team that went 73-89.
So confident was Bowden that he proclaimed, "We'll win more than we lose."
It turned out that Washington had the worst season in its four-year history. On Friday night, the team lost its 100th game of the season as it was beaten by the Phillies, 8-4, at Citizens Bank Park. The last time a team from Washington lost 100 games was in 1964, when the Senators were managed by Gil Hodges.
"It was a tough season for us," left fielder Willie Harris said. "Nobody wants to lose 100 games, but like I said, it has been a grind for us. We have been together all year. It's going to get better. Hopefully I'm around when it gets better."
Injuries played a huge role in the demise of the 2008 Nationals, who had to put players on the disabled list 30 times. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said the biggest blow came last May, when first baseman Nick Johnson had to miss the rest of the season because of a right wrist injury. He was one of the few players on the roster who had plate discipline and his superb defense was sorely missed.
"As far as his on-base percentage, hitting and defense at first base, that is something Nick is really good at," said Zimmerman, who didn't play in Friday's game because of flu-like symptoms. "He is always on base, he is always extending innings. Anytime you are in the middle of the order and can get on base, the next guy can hit a home run or the next guy can hit a double to score a run. It's just more opportunity for runs when you have guys like that."
Without Johnson and right-hander Shawn Hill, the Nationals were inconsistent on offense and pitching all season, and Friday was no different.
Right-hander Collin Balester, in his last start of the season, gave up seven of the eight runs before being taken out in the bottom of the second inning.
It didn't help that 50 percent of his pitches went for balls. Even more alarming was that Balester's fastball was clocked in the 89-90-mph range, when it's usually clocked in the 93-94-mph range. After the game, Balester didn't complain of an arm injury.
"It was a horrible day. It was a horrible game," Balester said. "It was just one of those days. It was out of whack. I was kind of all over the place. Nothing was working. I let the team down. It's part of the game.
"Every loss is bad. It doesn't matter if it's the 100th or the 50th. I didn't want to lose the 100th game. There's nothing you can really do, I guess."
Washington's offense is the No. 1 reason it is in fifth place in the National League East. It is near the bottom of almost every offensive category. On Friday, it collected only six hits. All four runs were scored against Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton. Kory Casto highlighted the scoring with a solo home run in the sixth inning that was reviewed by instant replay and upheld.
Manager Manny Acta declined to go into details about his team losing its 100th game, but after watching the Phillies play all season, Acta wants something they have.
"I want their three power guys -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell -- over here. The Phillies have a good club and they play hard. They are well balanced and they have speed and power," Acta said.
It takes more than talent to be in a pennant race. Chemistry is also key, according to Harris. He should know. Harris was a member of the White Sox, who won the World Series in 2005.
"We have to have everybody on the same page," Harris said. "That championship team that I was on, we had some serious chemistry going on. During the early part of the season, we didn't have it. After the All-Star break, guys really started to get on the same page. In second half we played way better in the second half than we did in the first.
"The Nationals have to stick together and pull for one another and it will get better."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.