"That was a tough one. I'm going to have a hard time sleeping tonight on that one." Davey Johnson, on surrendering 8-0 lead to lose 10-9.
The Cubs celebrate Blake DeWitt's three-run home run off Livan Hernandez. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
This one hurt.

The Washington Nationals were finally enjoying one of those "laughers" that manager Davey Johnson referred to the other day, scoring eight runs before the fourth inning was over.  But starter Livan Hernandez ran out of gas in a big way in the sixth, reliever Sean Burnett poured gas on the fire when he entered in the seventh, and Henry Rodriguez fanned the flames as he gave up the lead in the eighth and ninth innings.  That's how an 8-0 lead turned into a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the finale of the four-game series.

In the grand scheme of things, if someone had told you on your way into the park on Monday that the Nats would take three of four from the Cubs, you would have had to be happy with that.  But with the series all but swept after the bottom of the fourth, this loss will sting for a little while.

The loss drops the Nats to 45-44 heading into a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies this weekend before the much-needed All-Star break.

Things looked real good for the Nats in the third inning, as they batted around and scored seven runs off Cubs starter Matt Garza.  Washington wasn't really pounding the ball, but was finding holes in the Chicago defense with every at bat.  Livo led off with a hard-hit single to right center. Roger Bernadina doubled down the line in right and Livo needed the oxygen when he got to third base.  Danny Espinosa singled to center scoring them both.

Ryan Zimmerman reached on an infield single. Michael Morse lined one to center scoring Espinosa.  Jayson Werth was late on a Garza fastball, but muscled it off the second baseman's glove for an infield hit, scoring Zimmerman.  Carlos Pena couldn't handle Rick Ankiel's hard bouncer to first, one of three errors on the night for the Cubs, and all hands were safe.

Wilson Ramos delivered the big blow, a two-run double to right field, and later Bernadina gathered his second hit of the inning, driving in Ankiel on a flare to left field.  Seven runs, easy peasy.

The Nats even tacked one on in the fourth when Ankiel doubled in Zimmerman, who reached on an error by right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, as a ball landed between him and center fielder Marlon Byrd.

That's when the fun ended for the Nats.

Livo had two down with a man on first in the sixth and had been cruising up to that point.  But four straight hits scored three, and Cubs manager Mike Quade sent left-handed hitting Blake DeWitt up to pinch-hit for his pitcher's spot.  Livo got DeWitt down 1-2, but left one out a little over the plate, and DeWitt turned on it.  The ball hit half-way up the right field foul pole and the 8-0 lead was cut to 8-6 in an instant.

"[Livo] left one out over the plate to DeWitt," Johnson said from a somber clubhouse following the game.  "And that was the big blow as far as I'm concerned. That was the momentum shifter."

"I really felt I had confidence in Livo he could get one guy, I think six or seven guys straight got hits. Even though my bullpen was a little messed up, obviously I went a little long him. Put that one in my corner, I'll take full responsibility for that one."

Livo making the walk of shame. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The next inning, Todd Coffey got Starlin Castro to fly out but he walked Aramis Ramirez, setting up a lefty-lefty situation with Sean Burnett and Carlos Pena.  Pena clobbered the first pitch he got from Burnett for a two-run home run, stunning the crowd.

Johnson was matter of fact describing the play. "[Burnett] made a bad pitch, hung a curveball right in the middle of the plate. [Pena] just crushed it."

The manager was asked if Burnett's struggles this season have him re-thinking how to use the lefty.  "He was going to get some work tonight, but I didn't want it to be that close. I didn't want to get him up in the sixth [to face DeWitt] that early. It called for me to have a left-hander up in the sixth with the pinch-hitter coming up. But I said 'I'm just gonna stay with Livo. Livo'll get me an out."

"I'll have to re-evaluate how I want my left-hander up. I really don't like using Sean in the sixth inning, I try to use him later."  When reminded that in his first home press conference Johnson remarked that he said he'd like to have a second situational lefty in the pen, he started to answer in the affirmative but slid into a discussion more of just being short in the pen for this game with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard unavailable due to overuse and Ryan Mattheus on an emergency-type basis for last night's game.

Burnett has been okay this season against lefties, holding them to a .224/.304/.347 line, but right-handed batters are killing him with an OPS of .816. His overall ERA of 5.76 is unsightly and his strikeout rate has completely disappeared, going from 8.9 per nine innings last season to a miserable 4.7 this year.

Johnson remarked that he talked to his clubhouse immediately after the game. "I said a few words.  And I'll say a few more. But that one you chalk up to me. I was just trying to save some guys in the bullpen that have been overworked. I thought if [Livo] could just get me through six I could save a bunch of people.  But it didn't work out."

And how.

THE GOOD:  The Nats scored nine runs on 13 hits.  Bernadina went 3-for-5, and Espinosa and Morse had a pair of hits each. Every starter had at least one hit.

THE BAD:  The bullpen.  All three reliever that pitched gave up earned runs.

THE UGLY:  Matt Stairs. With a runner on third and one out in the ninth inning, trailing by one run and the infield playing in, he popped out to third.

THE STATS:  13 hits, three walks, 10 strikeouts.  7-for-21 with RISP, 10 LOB, zero GIDP. No errors.

NEXT GAME:  Friday against Colorado Rockies (41-47, 3rd N.L. West)  at 7:05 from Nats Park.  Jason Marquis (7-3, 4.11) faces Jason Hammel (4-8, 4.31)

NATS NOTES:  Pudge Rodriguez was slated to start last night's game, but strained an oblique muscle during pre-game stretching and batting practice.  Johnson showed obvious concern when speaking about Rodriguez with reporters after the game, and mentioned that Rodriguez wanted to avoid the D.L. But the tone of Johnson's voice indicated that the D.L. was a definite possibility.  Rodriguez will be re-evaluated by trainers at the park Friday morning.

Chien-Ming Wang made this third start in his minor league rehab assignment last night, suiting up for Double-A Harrisburg.  Wang pitched five shutout innings for the Senators in a home game against Erie.  He allowed just two hits, walked none and struck out two.  He generated nine ground ball outs and just three fly balls, and according to reports was throwing 90-91 with his fastball.  In three starts, Wang is 1-0 in 12 innings, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits and two walks, striking out seven and getting three ground outs per fly out.  His batting average against is a cool .125.

Ryan Zimmerman reaches on an error. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Marlon Byrd takes out Espinosa with a hard slide. C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The Shark slides in safe for a run in the third inning. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

Danny Espinosa clubs one of his two hits last night. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Michael Morse delivers for the Nats. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)