PHILADELPHIA -- The start of this month could represent a chance for the Nationals to turn the page, to distance themselves from a disappointing June as they officially move past the halfway point in their schedule. That fresh start did not come on Sunday afternoon, as they got locked in
PHILADELPHIA -- The start of this month could represent a chance for the Nationals to turn the page, to distance themselves from a disappointing June as they officially move past the halfway point in their schedule. That fresh start did not come on Sunday afternoon, as they got locked in an extra-innings battle with the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, which extended into the 13th before Andrew Knapp launched a pinch-hit walk-off home run for a 4-3 Philadelphia win.
After starter Giovany Gonzalez went five innings, the Nationals exhausted all eight of their relievers to navigate through the game, and they combined for a scoreless effort until the 13th inning, when Justin Miller -- their last pitcher from the 'pen -- was on the hill. He was pitching for the third straight game after throwing 1 2/3 innings the night before, and he surrendered Knapp's homer on his 35th pitch.
"All I can say is our bullpen was heroic," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "I can't ask for more than what those guys have been doing down there."
The issue once again for Washington was the lack of run support. The Nats dropped three out of four games during this weekend series because they could not solve the Phillies' bullpen, which tossed at least seven innings in the past three games. Although the Nationals have perhaps one of the most talented lineups in the National League, their offense was one of the least productive in the NL last month, and it has struggled to score runs consistently all season.
"Offensively, we've got to get things going," right fielder Adam Eaton said. "We've got to get things going in the right direction and score more runs. This team is so much more capable than what we're showing. Hopefully, it's a wake-up call for us. There's too many zeros up there for a ballclub that's this caliber."
The Nationals -- losers of 12 of their past 16 games -- yielded even more ground in the NL East as they sit in third place, six games behind the first-place Braves. They are just two games over .500, and their 42 wins at the halfway point were already their fewest since 2013, when they missed the postseason and finished with 86 wins. They have not won consecutive games since June 5-6.
For a team with high aspirations entering the season, the Nationals know they are underperforming, but they are confident they can turn it around.
"There's no panic," said Eaton, who brought home two in the fifth inning with a single. "But when there's a glaring issue, be it runners in scoring position or getting guys on, you've got to fix it and you've got to do it sooner than later. The guys in this room are more than capable of doing it."
"It'll turn," Martinez said. "Our offense is good. I know it's good. And I truly believe that it'll turn around."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
One week ago, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler issued an intentional walk in the eighth inning to bring up Daniel Murphy in a crucial situation. It backfired then, and Murphy came through with the game-winning two-run single.
Kapler decided to test the same waters on Sunday afternoon, electing to walk Bryce Harper to put runners on first and second and have left-hander Adam Morgan face Murphy. But Murphy tapped a weak grounder to second base to end the Nats' scoring threat.
LAST MEN STANDING
Both teams were down to their last pitcher, and if Sunday's game had extended into the 14th, they would have almost certainly turned to position players to close out the game.
Even though Miller inisited he felt fine pitching for the third straight day to start the outing, he admitted he began to tire by the end. Martinez was not going to extend him much further past that inning.
"You might have seen Mark Reynolds throwing knuckleballs at that point," Martinez said.
And the Phillies had just turned to right-hander Nick Pivetta, who started Friday night, to pitch a scoreless top of the 13th, but Knapp was his pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning. So Kapler planned to use third baseman Jesmuel Valentin to pitch the next inning.
"That was a tough game today," Miller said. "We went 13 innings, and it was a really close ballgame all the way through. … It just so happens they got one off me, and it was at the end. They were the home team, and they got the last at-bat."
The Nationals return home for a marquee matchup with the Red Sox, beginning on Monday at Nationals Park. Max Scherzer will take the mound after making a case to June to win NL Pitcher of the Month for the third straight month, when he posted a 2.31 ERA with 45 strikeouts in five starts. He will duel his former Tigers teammate, Rick Porcello. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.