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Nats cope with a rare loss

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Nats cope with a rare loss

PHOENIX -- Kurt Suzuki arrived in Washington on Aug. 4 and professed his excitement to join a Nationals club that was in first place and gearing up for the stretch run. Little did he know what he was in for.

The Nationals won Suzuki's debut, 10-7 over the Marlins. Then they won the next day to wrap up a homestand. Then they swept the Astros in Houston. Then they won two straight in Arizona, improving to 8-0 since the veteran catcher joined the roster.

What, then, was Suzuki to make of Sunday's series finale against the Diamondbacks, a 7-4 loss that conjured up emotions not felt around here in quite some time?

"Anytime you lose, it stinks no matter what," he said. "But I mean, that's the first time I lost here. So it was a little different."

This game certainly felt much different than the eight that preceded it. The Nationals were sloppy out of the gate and put themselves in a 7-0 hole, though they did try to mount a furious rally late and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

Ultimately, they couldn't overcome a shaky start from Ross Detwiler, who lasted only 4 23 innings and surrendered five runs (four earned). The left-hander wasn't feeling well, dealing with a sinus problem and stomach illness, but he refused to blame that for his poor outing.

"If I'm feeling bad and I still get my pitches down, then I get outs and it looks a whole lot better," he said. "I don't think that's the excuse why I did bad at all."

Detwiler indeed had trouble keeping the ball down in the strike zone, inducing only three groundball outs. The Diamondbacks lineup didn't exactly pound him into submission, but their three hits did all go for extra bases. Detwiler also walked one batter and hit two others, eventually pulled by manager Davey Johnson after snagging a scorched comebacker from Jason Kubel that nearly took his head off.

"Sometimes they always say some guys play their best when they're sick," Suzuki said. "It does take a toll on you and your body and makes you kind of feel foggy out there. It's tough going out there like that."

Detwiler wasn't helped a whole lot by his defense, particularly during an ugly stretch in the bottom of the second in which Ryan Zimmerman fired a wayward throw from third base for his ninth error of the season and then Suzuki threw wide on a stolen-base attempt to allow the afternoon's first run to score.

"Things like that are going to happen," Zimmerman said. "We've just got to make sure they don't happen a lot."

If they looked sloppy in the field early on, the Nationals looked downright asleep at the plate for much of the day. They managed just one baserunner in six innings against rookie Patrick Corbin, and that one (Bryce Harper) was immediately picked off first base.

Harper actually should have been standing on second base at the time if not for a bizarre (and violent) run-in with umpire Mike Muchlinski, who unfortunately stood in the rookie's way as he tried to advance to second on a wild throw. Harper bowled over Muchlinski with a tackle that might have resulted in a fine from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and upon regaining his feet trotted back to first base.

As it turns out, had Harper simply continued running, he would have been awarded second base for umpire interference, even had the Diamondbacks thrown him out.

Muchlinski is a minor-league umpire who was called up for the final two games of this series after crew chief Dale Scott took a foul tip to his chin and suffered a concussion.

"He was way out of position," said Johnson, who argued briefly with Muchlinski. "He was embarrassed. "He said: 'I'm more embarrassed than anyone.'"

The Nationals finally got to Corbin in the seventh, but they still trailed 7-2 entering the ninth. That's when a lopsided loss suddenly turned interesting again.

Cesar Izturis and Michael Morse greeted reliever Takashi Saito with back-to-back doubles. Jayson Werth (who was not in the starting lineup) brought home one run with a groundout, then Tyler Moore singled home another.

All of a sudden, it was a 7-4 game and Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was forced to summon his closer, J.J. Putz, to finish this one off. And when Putz walked Steve Lombardozzi to load the bases, Roger Bernadina now stepped to the plate representing the tying run with two outs.

"I mean, there's no give up on this ballclub," Johnson said. "They're going to keep battling you. ... They weren't planning on using their closer. Get him in, tying run there, anything can happen at that point."

Putz, though, buckled down and struck out Bernadina to end the game and leave the Nationals trying to decipher this strange, new sensation.

A loss? They barely remembered what that felt like.

"As much as I wish, we weren't going to win every game the rest of the season," Zimmerman said. "We're going to lose, just like everyone else loses. We won the series. We'll go to San Francisco and try to win that series. ... Finish this road trip up strong, and it'll be a great road trip."

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

RELATED: NATIONALS REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

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Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

Former Nationals outfielder admits to drinking vodka before MLB games

When it comes to sports, we sometimes forget that the athletes we look up to are just normal people. Normal people who have a lot to prove to millions of people on a weekly basis. Former Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel has discussed one of his human moments in an interview with 590 The Fan in St. Louis.

Ankiel admitted to drinking vodka during his plight as a pitcher. He referenced his first two starts of the 2001 season, in particular against the Arizona Diamondbacks where he allowed his anxiety to give in to alcohol to soothe him. In the previous postseason, he became the first pitcher since 1980 to throw five wild pitches in a single inning. 

It may have worked for a couple of games but Ankiel eventually realized it was only making matters worse.

Ankiel began playing in Majors at the age of 19, and has had a fluctuating career through six teams. All the while, he has kept a “never give up” mentality.

Why the sudden need to vent? Ankiel is getting up close and personal with his upcoming book, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed my Life” which is co-written by sports writer Tim Brown. The book will be released on April 18.  

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