The Nationals pounded Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick for eight hits and six runs in four innings en route to their seventh win in a row. Though Washington came into the game with the worst record in the Major Leagues, a seven-game winning streak is something the 2008 Phils can't boast, having topped out at five on three separate occasions.
"It's one game," second baseman Chase Utley said after the loss in a mostly hushed and somber clubhouse. "We've got to come out ready to play [Tuesday]. This month is obviously extremely important. We'll see what happens."
But if there ever was a time for the Phillies to start a hot streak, this week is it. The players laughed and joked in an upbeat clubhouse in the hours before Monday's game, having come into Washington on the heels of two close wins on the road over the National League-leading Cubs on Saturday and Sunday, wins that allowed them to remain one game behind the first-place Mets.
After Monday's loss, which dropped the Phils two games back, most players dressed quietly before making their way to the exits.
"I think that first-inning sucked the wind out of the game," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Both sides."
In the first, Nationals pitcher Tim Redding allowed Jimmy Rollins a leadoff walk and hit Chase Utley with a pitch. Redding tried to pick Rollins off second, but threw the ball into center field, moving both runners into scoring position with one out.
Redding is one of those hurlers who seems to have the Phils' number this season, coming into Monday's game with a 2-1 record and 3.09 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia in 2008. The right-hander recovered from his early mistakes in the first, getting Ryan Howard to miss a 94-mph fastball, then inducing Jayson Werth to fly out to right to leave Rollins and Utley stranded.
The first inning was not as merciful to Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick. The right-hander struggled with his control, walking Ryan Zimmerman and hitting Elijah Dukes. Kendrick gave up two runs in that frame on a base hit by Lastings Milledge.
"I just couldn't get in the groove," Kendrick said. "I would get ahead, and then I couldn't find the strike zone for a couple pitches."
The Nationals knocked Kendrick out of the game with four runs in the fourth, including a two-run homer by Zimmerman. It marked the third time in the 24-year-old's past five starts that he was relieved after four innings or fewer. The control problems that surfaced in the first inning lasted all afternoon, as Kendrick threw only 48 of his 84 pitches for strikes.
The last six weeks have been particularly tough for Kendrick, who is in his first full season in the Majors after being promoted from Double-A Reading in the middle of 2007. In his last nine starts, the right-hander is 3-5 with a 6.45 ERA.
Manuel was asked after the game if he would consider skipping Kendrick's next turn in the rotation.
"We've got some time on that," Manuel said. "We always think about our pitching. Where we're at this time of year, we're going to do what we think is the best way to win games."
Meanwhile, Redding kept the Phils' hitters guessing, keeping a no-hitter going until the sixth, when Shane Victorino broke it up with a one-out infield single. That inning turned out to be Philly's best chance to get back into the game, when it batted around and scored three runs, but ultimately left the bases loaded.
After the game, Manuel discussed the Nats' recent success and the resolve they've shown during their seven-game winning streak.
"If you stay after it, somewhere along the line, you'll get into a streak and things start going your way, and you'll run off anywhere from eight to 10, 12-game winning streak," Manuel said. "I think it's just a matter of how much you love to play and want to play. That's where the determination and the passion part comes in. You've got to take your hats off to them, because they haven't quit. They definitely haven't quit."
With the calendar having flipped to September, and the Mets not fading, the Phillies can't afford to quit, either.