The Phillies squandered opportunity after opportunity early on, and they finished the game 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. They stranded nine runners on base, including three at third base.
"Strasburg had something to do with that," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' starter. "He had an outstanding power changeup, which was 89-90 mph. That's what he went to with the men on base. But we scrapped hits and had hits in opportunities, and he pitched out of them."
And while the Phillies did the little things so well during their winning stretch, small mistakes cost them on Saturday night, especially in the 10th.
After left-handed reliever Jake Diekman walked Denard Span to begin the inning, Chase Utley made a rare poor judgment call two batters later. Ex-Phillie Jayson Werth grounded a high chopper to the second baseman, who flipped to second when his only play was at first. Both runners were safe, prolonging the inning long enough to give the Nationals a favorable matchup.
"I thought we had a play. Obviously it didn't work out in our favor," Utley said. "It's a big play in the game, and it ended up costing us."
Entering the game, right-handed hitters had a .780 OPS and .255 batting average against Diekman, compared with a .451 OPS and .200 average for lefties. The right-handed Zimmerman took advantage.
For his part, starter Cole Hamels did all he could to keep Philadelphia in the game, though he didn't look his sharpest early on. He walked the game's first hitter before allowing a double to Anthony Rendon in the ensuing at-bat. Werth drove in a run on a groundout, but Hamels kept the Nats from adding to it in the inning.
In the sixth, the teams exchanged two-run innings. Werth tallied his second and third RBIs of the night after launching a home run to right-center in the top half to put the Nationals up, 3-0.
But in the bottom half, Rollins and Utley -- a combined 4-for-40 lifetime against Strasburg entering Saturday -- each singled to begin the inning. With Ryan Howard batting, both runners advanced on a double steal, and in the next at-bat, Philadelphia's aggression on the basepaths paid off. Marlon Byrd singled to left, allowing both runners to come around to score.
Hamels used his 117th pitch to escape the seventh inning and end his night. The southpaw allowed three runs on four hits with five strikeouts as he picked up his eighth quality start in his past nine outings. But what hurt Hamels the most was the three walks he issued, two of which to leadoff batters.
All three leadoff walks that the Phillies surrendered on Saturday night came around to score, and that, Sandberg said, was the "story of the game."
"It's been kind of something all year, where [I've] been walking probably a little bit too many guys, and especially when they lead off because you're putting a guy on base, no outs," Hamels said. "You put a team in position to where they can definitely manufacture runs a little bit easier. It definitely hurt."
Ben Revere delivered the tying RBI on a single up the middle in the eighth, but the Phillies just did not get as many clutch hits as they needed to get over the hump on Saturday.
"We couldn't get the big hit when we needed it, but we were able to come back on a good pitcher and make it a pretty interesting ballgame," Utley said.
The loss may have taken some wind out of the Phillies' sails, but with one game left to play -- a series rubber match with the division leaders -- before the All-Star break, Philadelphia still has an opportunity to head into the second half with some momentum.
"We've got an older team. We've won before, and we know how to win," Hamels said. "I think just with the way that we've been able to play baseball the past couple of days, it really shows that we have it within us. We just have to go out there and repeat it and do it on a regular basis, day in and day out each week."