Manager Frank Robinson gathered his players after a loss and read them some unflattering words used by the media to describe the club’s tailspin. That attempt at motivation flopped. So did reliever Joey Eischen’s idea of handing out camouflage caps before Friday night’s game.
Nothing seems to be able to snap the Nationals out of their slide right now, and facing Roger Clemens was probably the last thing they needed.
Clemens matched his season high with 10 strikeouts over six shutout innings, and Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane and Mike Lamb each drove in three runs to lead Houston past Washington 14-1, the Nationals’ 12th loss in 16 games.
“You don’t like to be embarrassed like that, no matter where you are, especially at home,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to do something to get this ballclub back in the win column, No. 1, and in the winning mode. We’re not in a winning mode right now.”
Washington remained tied with Atlanta for first place in the NL East after the Braves lost 6-5 at Arizona in 10 innings. The Nationals led by 5 1/2 games on July 3, but their lead has vanished right along with their offense.
“It’s kind of embarrassing. We’ve been on the opposite end of the spectrum, where we can’t lose a ballgame,” outfielder Ryan Church said. “Now we can’t win a ballgame.”
Washington has scored 30 runs in its last 11 games, a 2.7 average. So it seemed almost unfair that they had to take on a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
“Hopefully we stop this as soon as possible,” said outfielder Jose Guillen, who had two of Washington’s three hits off Clemens.
“I just hope we don’t let any of these fans down.”
The Nationals’ normally wildly supportive crowd turned on their new team a bit. Some booed when the runs piled up in the late going. Some cheered sarcastically when the home club recorded an out in a four-run seventh and when Washington scored its only run in the eighth.
Houston, meanwhile, collected season highs for runs and hits (19) and stretched its winning streak to a season-best six games.
Lane’s career-high four hits included two doubles, Ensberg hit his 26th homer—a two-run shot in the first—plus an RBI single and a double, and Lamb added a three-run homer as a pinch-hitter. Willy Taveras had four singles.
“I shouldn’t be in here. The hitters should be in here,” the 42-year-old Clemens told reporters gathered in an interview room. “At my age I don’t take anything for granted, that is for sure.”
Wiping sweat off his brow with his glove on a humid, 87-degree night, Clemens (8-4) lowered his majors-best ERA to 1.40.
The low point for Washington’s offense might have come after Clemens left, though. Cristian Guzman led off the seventh with a triple against reliever Chad Qualls—then was stranded by three straight weak groundouts, drawing jeers.
“Nobody in the lineup is coming through with the big hit for us right now, to really get us started, to light the fuse,” Robinson said.
Nationals starter Ryan Drese (3-3) gave up six runs—five earned—and nine hits over 6 1-3 innings. He was followed by Sun-woo Kim, who allowed eight runs and 10 hits.
No Washington runner made it as far as third against Clemens.
“He was on his game today,” Guillen said. “That’s the Clemens you have seen in the past.”
Wilson was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, three against Clemens.
There were other problems for Washington, which gave up an unearned run for the second straight night, this time after second baseman Jose Vidro bobbled a grounder. The Nationals also botched their defense on a delayed double steal in the sixth, with Adam Everett scoring. Washington finished 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
“Whatever I do in that clubhouse doesn’t matter. It’s what the players do on the field. You know the old cliche: I don’t hit for them, I don’t run for them, I don’t pitch for them. It’s what they’re going to go and do out on the field,” Robinson said.
“They’ve got to be determined that they’re going to go out and turn this thing around. Everybody has to go out there and take a certain amount of responsibility upon themselves. We have to get this thing stopped.”
Also among the problems Friday: All but one of the electronic scoreboards around RFK Stadium went dark in the bottom of the third. The working one carried the message: “Thank you for your support.”
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to the visiting clubhouse after the game and met Clemens. … Lamb has homered in three consecutive games.