WASHINGTON (AP) — September has not been the kindest month for Nationals closer Tyler Clippard. In his latest save the opportunity, the hits just kept on coming.
Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez had consecutive RBI hits in the ninth inning off Clippard and the Milwaukee Brewers extended their season-high winning streak to six games with a 4-2 win over Washington on Friday night.
Despite the loss, Washington's magic number for clinching the NL East fell to seven following Atlanta's loss at Philadelphia. On Thursday, the Nationals clinched the first postseason berth by a Washington baseball team since 1933.
That did not making dealing with the latest setback any easier, especially after starter Edwin Jackson's tossed eight strong innings.
"That one hurt," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Jackson pitched a great ball game. I was tempted to let him go out in the ninth , but I said 'you know, you pitched a great ball game, (Clippard's) fresh, let's go there."
He did, but as has been the case several times this month, Clippard was not up to the challenge. Owner of 32 saves on the season, Clippard only got two outs and allowed three runs on four hits in his fifth blown save on the season and third loss this month.
Norichika Aoki led off the ninth with bunt single, took second on a passed ball by catcher Jesus Flores and moved to third on Rickie Weeks' fly ball out.
Braun followed with a single to left, scoring Aoki. He then stole second and came around to score the go-ahead run on Ramirez's double to left. After moving to third on a Clippard wild pitch, Ramirez scored on Travis Ishikawa's infield single.
"That's kind of how those situations go; they happen fast," Clippard said. "That's the nature of being a closer...One mistake can hurt and I made a couple tonight."
It's been a trend. In nine September appearances, he has allowed nine earned runs in 8 1-3 innings.
"I'm trying to figure it out, I'm searching right now," Clippard said. "We'll get it figured out, I'm not too worried about it. I'm still confident as heck. It hurt tonight, I'm not going to lie to you."
Before the game, Johnson announced he plans to use Clippard and Drew Storen, who recorded 43 saves last season, in the closer role going forward.
Jose Veras (5-4) worked one inning in relief and John Axford pitched the ninth for his 32nd save. The victory combined with a St. Louis loss moved the Brewers within 1 1-2 games of the Cardinals for the final wild card berth in the National League.
Jackson efficiently limited the Brewers before being removed by a pinch-hitter, allowing one run over eight innings, scattering six hits with six strikeouts on 101 pitches. He did not issue a walk for the first time since May 13 at Cincinnati.
The blown save denied Jackson's bid at becoming the fifth Nationals' starter with at least 10 wins this season.
Brewers starter Shaun Marcum worked six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He silenced Washington's bats after LaRoche's homer, surrendering only two base hits after the first inning. Washington had only hit over the final five innings.
With Ryan Zimmerman on first base after a two-out single, LaRoche turned on a 1-1 pitch from Marcum and parked it over the right field wall for his 31st home run, putting Washington ahead 2-0 in the first.
Jonathan Lucroy cut the lead in half leading off the second with a towering solo home run to left off Jackson, who responded by striking out the side.
The strong-armed Harper kept the Brewers from tying the game in the fourth.
Braun led off the top of the inning with a double and Ramirez followed with a single to center. With Braun rounding third, Harper charged the grounder and threw a strike to catcher Jesus Flores, who blocked the plate and tagged out the Brewers sliding left fielder.
Ramirez took second on the play and moments later had the opportunity to test the 19-year-olds arm after Lucroy's base hit to center. He declined, remaining on third. Jackson escaped the inning by inducing Ishikawa into a ground ball double play.
In the eighth with one out, Jackson and Flores combined for a strike out-throw out double play to the end the inning.
"I had some great defensive plays behind me. That definitely doesn't hurt," the modest and appreciative Jackson said. "At the end of the day, it was a tough one for us. Come back tomorrow and get ready to continue to do what we've been doing."
Notes: Braun finished with three hits, including two doubles... Left-hander Gio Gonzalez aims for his 20th win on Saturday while the Brewers counter with righty Wily Peralta.