The Giants nursed a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning but lost as errors by closer Santiago Casilla and shortstop Brandon Crawford helped Washington score twice. Crawford's mistake, a one-hop throw that first baseman Brandon Belt couldn't hold, erased a potential double play and enabled Bryce Harper to score the winning run.
Not only did the Giants' fifth loss in six games mark the return of the poor defense that dogged them earlier in the year, but their season-long shortcomings with runners in scoring position also continued. The Giants out-hit Washington, 15-12, as Justin Christian (3-for-5, three runs scored), Melky Cabrera (three RBIs) and Angel Pagan (3-for-5, two RBIs) performed admirably. But the team went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position. That's how San Francisco stranded 11 runners, including seven in scoring position.
For the second straight day, the Giants squandered a three-run lead, having jumped ahead 3-0 on Wednesday before building a 5-1 edge Thursday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants were 74-1 in such instances until this series.
The decision completed a three-game sweep for Washington, which owns the National League's best record. The Nationals subdued the Giants without using their top two starting pitchers, All-Stars Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. San Francisco, which tumbled out of first place in the NL West during the series, left the nation's capital duly impressed.
"These guys are hot," right-hander Matt Cain, who yielded three runs in 6 2/3 innings, said of the Nationals. "They're all swinging the bat well and finding ways to work together. That's why they're in first place."
Said second baseman Ryan Theriot, "We played Texas and Anaheim, two really good teams. In my opinion, these guys are right up there. Their starting pitching is very good. Obviously, their offense is scoring a ton of runs. It's a really good ballclub."
Washington demonstrated its pluck against Casilla, who began the ninth by yielding pinch-hitter Tyler Moore's double. Casilla then fumbled Steve Lombardozzi's sacrifice-bunt attempt and was charged with a fielding error, leaving runners at the corners.
Third baseman Joaquin Arias appeared to holler at Casilla in an effort to handle the play instead. But Casilla said that he didn't hear Arias. Moreover, the reliever said, "I don't want to make excuses."
Harper's single to right field scored Moore, prompting Casilla to walk Ryan Zimmerman intentionally to load the bases. After Michael Morse's grounder forced Lombardozzi at home, Adam LaRoche hit a potential double-play grounder to Theriot. Crawford took Theriot's relay at second base and flung his low throw to Belt as Harper scored the winning run.
"It wasn't a good throw," Crawford said. "It didn't slip or the runner was there, anything like that. It just didn't make it 90 feet."
Asked about the state of his confidence after blowing his fourth save opportunity in 25 chances, Casilla said, "I never lose that. ... It's not how we start; it's how we finish."
Theriot politely but firmly swatted away the suggestion that the Giants should feel discouraged about not measuring up to the NL's best.
"We're not really being blown off the field," Theriot said. "I wouldn't say it's discouraging. If anything, it shows you where you're at and where you need to improve."
Cain took that attitude regarding his own performance. Washington erased most of its aforementioned 5-1 deficit by scoring three runs in the seventh inning, the first two coming on back-to-back home runs by Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa off Cain.
"I didn't do a good job of keeping the momentum on our side," Cain said. "That right there was a big turning point."
In the other clubhouse, Harper seconded Cain's sentiment.
"Once Desi hit that bomb, I said to LaRoche, 'We're going to win this game,' and to be ready for it," the charismatic rookie said. "Once Desi got that going in the seventh, that's when the tide started to roll our way."