WASHINGTON - Tuesday, it was Danny Espinosa. Yesterday, it was Laynce Nix.
And both days, it was a Phillies offense that was unable to overcome the damage that the two unheralded Nationals players inflicted.
Nix hit a go-ahead solo home run with two outs in the third inning, then protected that lead with a remarkable, belly-flopping catch in the sixth to rob the Phillies of the game-tying and go-ahead runs in what instead ended as a 2-1 loss that dropped the Phillies to 34-22.
After it was over, veteran righthander Roy Oswalt seemed more than a little miffed that Charlie Manuel decided to pinch-hit for him with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth inning. But the Phillies were trailing by a run and had not managed much in the way of offense off Nationals lefty John Lannan, so the manager made the logical play. And it turned out to be the correct play, one that on almost any other day would have resulted in a Phillies win.
Rookie outfielder Domonic Brown made solid contact off lefty reliever Doug Slaten, sending a fly ball sailing toward the gap in left-centerfield for what looked to be a sure hit. Two runs would have scored. The Phillies would have taken a 3-2 lead. And thanks to the three scoreless innings that rookie relievers Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo went on to throw, the Phillies likely would have won.
"When he first hit the ball, I thought it was in the gap," Manuel said.
Ben Francisco, who turned around to watch the play as he drifted from third toward home, concurred.
"I thought it was a base hit," the rightfielder said.
Only Brown had an inkling about what would happen next. When he hit the ball, slicing it toward the gap, he knew that Nationals centerfielder Roger Bernadina did not have a chance because of his prepitch defensive positioning. So Brown turned his attention toward Nix, a 30-year-old journeyman who - how to put this delicately - isn't ever going to threaten any land-speed records. But whatever he lacks in foot speed Nix made up for in his path to the ball.
"I was watching him the whole way," said Brown, who entered the at-bat 1-for-16 with six strikeouts against lefties in his career. "It was almost like it was in slow motion."
It ended with one of the more impressive catches you are likely to see this season, Nix launching himself nearly parallel to the ground and snagging the ball before landing flat on his stomach and chest, glove hand raised off the ground.
That was about it in the offensive drama department. Ryan Howard led off the second with a double and eventually scored on a throwing error on Nationals third baseman Alex Cora. But the Phillies managed just four hits and one earned run off Lannan, who entered the day 0-10 in his career against them.
"I thought we were going to score some runs off him, if you want to know the truth," Manuel said. "We were swinging big and he was throwing changeups and curveballs and spotting fastballs."
Oswalt, meanwhile, said he was surprised that Manuel lifted him from the game for Brown in the sixth, despite the fact that the Phillies had the bases loaded and were trailing by a run. Oswalt wasn't dominant, but limited the Nationals to two runs and two walks with three strikeouts in five innings. He threw just 79 pitches.
The Phillies are off today before opening a three-game series in Pittsburgh tomorrow.
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