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Nationals 3, Phillies 2: It Didn't Really Feel That Close

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Howard's late homer got the Phils to the brink, but no one could provide the push up onto the ledge

This guy throws baseballs with particular skill.
This guy throws baseballs with particular skill.
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Look, when your team has Max Scherzer's name on the upcoming docket of opposing starting pitchers, chances are you've had anywhere from 1-4 days to mentally prepare for what's probably about to happen. Six strikeouts through three innings? Of course. Getting no-hit through five innings? Yeah, that's pretty much expected.

Still, despite Scherzer's early dominance, Jerad Eickhoff kept the Phillies in the game with an acceptable six innings, allowing three runs on five hits with four strikeouts against three walks. That final number nearly equaled his total from every other start this month (four) thanks to spotty fastball command, but his curveball was sharp enough to keep him effective against a disciplined Nationals lineup.

The Nats struck early, plating two runs in the first inning despite Eickhoff retiring Trea Turner and Jayson Werth with relative ease to start the game. Back-to-back doubles from Daniel Murphy (squibber) and Bryce Harper (military grade laser) tallied run number one, and a Wilson Ramos single took care of the second.

A third run would bolster Scherzer's position, thanks to some safety squeeze work from the pitcher himself after Aaron Altherr's nearly amazing play couldn't prevent Ryan Zimmerman from advancing to third on a Danny Espinosa single. After Espinosa advanced to second on the squeeze, Turner singled to right. Espinosa got the green light to test Altherr, and then this happened; Espinosa tried to truck Cameron Rupp - a bad idea on the best days - and that just didn't quite work out. Espinosa's route home seemed to upset A.J. Ellis, and led to some wondering about just how clean the whole play was. Voice your opinion below.

The Phillies would finally get their first hit in the bottom of the sixth, when Freddy Galvis led off with a double. It was then that everyone promptly forgot how to play baseball well, as Tyler Goeddel flew out to left, Galvis was caught trying to steal third and Hernandez quickly proceeded to strike out thereafter. But in the seventh, Odubel Herrera reached on an infield single after Murphy couldn't finish what started out as a terrific defensive play. Ryan Howard, batting cleanup in what could be his final game as a member of the Phillies, deposited a signature oppo-boppo to left-center to cut the Nats' lead to one.

But that was a brief flicker of light in the dark tunnel that is the task of facing Maximus Decimus Meridius Scherzer, as the indomitable righty would finish the rest of the seventh and, subsequently, the eighth unscathed. His final damage: eight innings, three hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk. Ho hum.

But Scherzer did not pitch the ninth; Mark Melancon did. Melancon, brought over from Pittsburgh last month, had been excellent in his time with the Nationals, permitting just one run while hurling 13 strikeouts and just one measly walk in 12.2 innings. Clearly relieved to be facing anyone else, the Phillies got to work. Cesar Hernandez drew a lead-off walk, setting the table for Herrera to be a hero. He struck out. And so then it was Franco's turn.

Without any sense of drama or the moment whatsoever, Franco grounded into a game-ending double play on the first pitch, and any sense of walk-off threat was extinguished in an instant. In truth, this was not a game the Phillies deserved to win; Max Scherzer earned every bit of it, rifling through a mostly overmatched lineup with expected ease. Melancon's seventh save with the Nats (37th overall on the year) put a bow on Scherzer's 15th win. Eickhoff's loss, his 13th, puts him into a tie with Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson and Arizona's Patrick Corbin for most in the National League, though he's hardly pitched like a loser in a wide swath of those games.

As far as moral victories go, this might be one. The club only lost by one, despite facing Max Scherzer and getting a roughly par-for-the-course start from Eickhoff. The bullpen, for its part, was terrific, as Michael Mariot, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos pitched three scoreless innings of relief. It would be nice for more of these sequences to come with the Phillies holding a lead, but all in due time.

The Phils will try to avoid being swept tomorrow night, when Adam Morgan will do his best to leftball his way to a victory over Gio Gonzalez.