The Phillies (21-22) have lost three consecutive games following a six-game winning streak, dropping them below .500 again and removing some of the edge from an important early-season series against their National League East rivals.
Sure, the Phillies needed no "Take Back the Park" campaign to inspire fans to fill seats for this week's series against the Nationals. They announced their 226th consecutive sellout Monday. But the ballpark lacked the buzz that carried through the building during a weekend series against the Red Sox. Any contempt for the Nationals felt forced, despite the fact it was the first time the Phillies and Nationals met since Cole Hamels intentionally drilled Bryce Harper in the back and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo called Hamels "gutless" and "fake tough."
Fans booed Harper throughout the evening, but it lacked the genuineness of the boos reserved for players like Scott Rolen, J.D. Drew and even Chipper Jones, who has earned his boos over the years.
Harper simply hasn't earned his stripes yet.
Rain and chilly weather sapped some of the energy from the ballpark.
The Phillies' offense took care of the rest.
Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez allowed three hits, three walks and struck out nine in six scoreless innings. He struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced as the Nationals took a 2-0 lead on a solo home run from Ian Desmond in the second and a single from Desmond that scored Harper from second in the fourth.
"Coming in to play the Phillies, or whoever we're playing, it's not like we've got to rise to the occasion," Desmond said. "We play every game full tilt, so just sticking with the same approach."
Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick allowed five hits, two runs, two walks and struck out four in seven innings. He has a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts, but is 0-2.
The Phillies had their chances to help Kendrick. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth, but did not score. Hunter Pence hit a sinking line drive to Nationals center fielder Rick Ankiel, who made a diving catch. At the very least, Placido Polanco should have been on third base and tagging up. But he was too far down the third-base line when Ankiel caught the ball. By the time he scampered back, Ankiel had gotten up and Polanco had no chance to score.
"Yes, I think he could have [scored]," Manuel said.
Polanco said he screwed up.
"It's a tough one to read, but still, I should have been closer to the bag and at least give ourselves a chance and tag," he said. "If it's a base hit, maybe try to score on that one, but I should have been maybe closer to the bag."
Asked if he thought he might not have scored anyway because of Ankiel's arm, Polanco said, "Yeah, but still it wasn't the right way. You've got to be closer to the bag and do it right, you know?"
Polanco was thrown out at the plate on a fielder's choice for the second out. The Phillies entered the night scoring just 37 percent of the time when they have a runner on third with less than two outs. That is the worst mark in baseball, with the league average at 50 percent.
"That hurt us," Manuel said of the sixth. "That set the stage. We cannot afford to not score runs. If you're going to scream little ball and small ball and stuff like that, we've got to score those kinds of runs."
But that wasn't the end of the baserunning mistakes. John Mayberry Jr. walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch in the ninth, but only made it to third base on Mike Fontenot's single up the middle. Mayberry barely moved until the ball reached the outfield. Had he been moving, he almost certainly would have scored. Mayberry then failed to score when Henry Rodriguez threw a wild pitch that went well behind home plate.
Manuel did not have a problem with that play, only because Mayberry's run did not mean anything. They still needed to score Fontenot to tie the game. But when Ty Wigginton hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Mayberry, Fontenot never went to third.
Hector Luna walked to put runners on first and second, but Polanco lined out to the end the game.
If Polanco scored in the sixth, he could have been trying for the game-winning hit, not the game-tying hit.
"Keep fighting. Keep working. And relaxing," Polanco said.
Manuel also believes his hitters try too hard, or might be too afraid of making mistakes. Polanco doesn't disagree.
"When you relax, you play how you play," Polanco said. "When you have pressure, you try too hard and it never happens."