Nats take early lead but falter vs. Rays
Detwiler can't hold lead as Washington suffers tough loss
ST. PETERSBURG -- Players shuffled in and out of the losing clubhouse on Sunday afternoon in the type of hushed hurriedness usually reserved for churches.
It was quiet enough to hear a sunflower seed drop -- or notice when the manager walks through, whispers a word to a young attendant, and disappears into the dining room.
When you're Manny Acta these days, everything you do gets noticed, including the salad you re-emerge holding.
Washington fell to Tampa Bay, 5-4, on Sunday afternoon in front of 25,841 at Tropicana Field, giving the Rays a weekend sweep and the Nationals another reason to silently escape from a visiting stadium.
This one in particular, however, may stand out from the 44 others on the season for Washington.
Amidst reports circulating that Acta will be dismissed as soon as Monday -- reports that were called premature on Saturday by two MLB.com sources -- the most recent loss encapsulated some of the season's many frustrations.
The offense seemed powerful early but fizzled late. The young starting pitcher, Ross Detwiler, looked magnificent initially but eventually faded. The bullpen couldn't hold the game in place.
And for the third time this weekend, the Nationals watched the Rays celebrate a come-from-behind victory, leaving Acta to disappear into the clubhouse.
"We're all trying," Nats infielder Willie Harris said. "We've got to wait for the game to come to us."
The Nationals went up, 4-0, after back-to-back RBI doubles by Alberto Gonzalez and Josh Bard in the fourth inning off Rays starter James Shields. And Detwiler seemed locked in through the first five innings.
But in the sixth, ahead 4-2, he gave up a two-run home run to Gabe Kapler -- Kapler's second clutch homer of the series, after he hit the go-ahead pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning on Friday -- that barely skimmed over the left-field wall to tie the game.
"I just didn't execute my pitch there," Detwiler said. "Left it down and in, and he's a low-ball hitter. You see what happens."
Two innings later, Rays pinch-hitter Willy Aybar hit a grounder that bounded off the third-base bag and into left field, scoring Carlos Pena from second with the winning run. It was a cruel twist of fate for a team that has gotten its fair share this season -- another unlucky bounce, piling onto a long list.
"You can't control those types of things," Acta said. "It could've gone either way. I think what preceded that was more important than to complain about breaks."
It was the third consecutive blown lead for the Nationals, after they spoiled a 3-0 lead to lose, 4-3, on Friday, and a 3-1 lead to lose, 8-3, on Saturday. Ron Villone took the loss for the third time in four days after making 19 appearances without allowing a run.
Detwiler finished with six innings pitched, allowing four runs on six hits, five walks and no strikeouts. He's still looking for his first Major League win.
It's the seventh time the Nationals have been swept in a series this season. It was the 17th come-from-behind win for the Rays.
There was no news after the game about Acta. After news circulated on Saturday about a story on FOXSports.com that Acta would be dismissed, citing Major League sources, Washington team president Stan Kasten would not confirm or deny the report. However, two sources told MLB.com the report was premature and no decision had been made.
The Nationals are 16-45 and 20 games behind the first-place Phillies in the National League East.
"We haven't played the way we were expecting to play," Acta said before the game. "I don't put the blame on anybody. We're all accountable for what's going on."
On Sunday, opportunities to put away the Rays were lost. More balls that didn't take fortuitous bounces. More disappointment and head-shaking.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Harris said. "We go out there, we put our best effort out there, and stuff like that happens. Ball hits the bag, that's one time, who knows how many other times we've gone through stuff like that. We'll be fine. We've just got to figure out a way to win those one-run games."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.