Spotting the Cincinnati Reds five runs proved too much for the Washington Nationals.
Using a lot of what has marked their improved play so far this season -- timely hitting, clutch relief pitching and three spectacular plays by Ryan Zimmerman -- the Nats managed to rally to force extra innings. But Washington never was able to take the lead against the Cincinnati Reds, who won 8-5 in 11 innings to avoid a four-game sweep.
After Washington got five innings of scoreless relief from four different pitchers, Tyler Clippard surrendered four hits and three runs as Cincinnati snapped Washington's five-game winning streak.
Nats manager Davey Johnson wanted to rest Clippard, who is battling a sore shoulder. But the depleted state of the bullpen forced the All-Star setup man to the mound.
"I tried to stay off Clip because I had him warm up last night," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "Yesterday he had a little trouble getting loose, but today he said he felt fine."
Reds star Joey Votto delivered the game-winning double. The Nats had walked the lefty three times, including twice intentionally, but had little choice but to pitch to him in the 11th following singles by Drew Stubbs and Zack Cozart. With one out, Votto ripped a liner to left field, bringing home both runners. Scott Rolen followed with an insurance RBI for Cincinnati (4-6).
"I felt really good today. I think a couple of my pitch selections were probably the wrong choice," Clippard said. "I just didn't have it."
Despite the loss, the Nats (7-3) remained in first place in the National League East by a half-game over the Mets (6-3), who fell to the Phillies 8-2. That was little consolation to shortstop Ian Desmond, who went 3-for-5 to lead the comeback.
"First place is not in anybody's thought right now," Desmond said. "It's so early in the season."
After allowing just six runs in their previous five games, it was a frustrating first inning for the Nats as they were on the wrong side of a close play at first base that would have gotten them out of the inning. The tight strike zone of plate umpire Laz Diaz also kept the frame alive for the Reds, who eventually cashed in with Ryan Ludwick's grand slam -- moments after he let a potential third strike at the knees go by.
When asked about the call afterward, Detwiler refused to answer, blaming only himself.
"I only went five [innings]," Detwiler said. "That put so much pressure on the bullpen."
After the Reds added a run in the fourth to take a 5-0 lead, the Nats went into rally mode, with Desmond in the middle of three run-producing innings.
His single in the fourth triggered a three-run outburst, which included a two-run single by Adam LaRoche. His line-drive double in the fifth over the head of Reds center fielder Chris Heisey brought home another run. His two-out shot up the middle in the seventh tied it up, scoring Rick Ankiel from second after the Nats center fielder doubled down the right-field line.