WASHINGTON -- The Nationals used six singles, three doubles and three Cubs errors to jump out to an eight-run lead in front of 22,016 on Thursday at Nationals Park. Chicago only needed one big blow to tear it all down.
Entering the sixth inning, there was little need for manager Davey Johnson to gamble. But as four consecutive singles and a double threatened to make it a game, he did.
"He stuck with his horse," shortstop Ian Desmond said.
And Blake DeWitt sent a towering pinch-hit homer off the right-field foul pole, ending the night for starter Livan Hernandez, just as it started for the Cubs in their 10-9 comeback win that prevented a Nationals four-game sweep.
"I just said, 'I'm going to stick with Livo, and Livo will get me one out,'" Johnson said. "He put one right out over the plate to DeWitt, and that was the big blow as far as I'm concerned. That was the momentum shifter."
Washington still led, 8-6, when Hernandez exited the game in the sixth.
But a bullpen that looked so comfortable protecting one-run victories the past three days let its two-run lead slip away, then took the loss in the ninth after a Michael Morse single tied the score at 9 in the eighth.
Johnson spoke before the game about how hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez had closer's stuff, and had every intention of using him there in that role Thursday. But when Hernandez exited early and he suddenly needed more arms, Johnson turned to Rodriguez for two innings.
Both ended with the Nationals behind, as Rodriguez allowed a go-ahead double down the first-base line to Darwin Barney in the ninth after Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez gave Chicago a lead off Rodriguez in the eighth.
"When you're down, 8-0, it's easy to roll over," Barney said. "We responded to their big inning with one of our own. The most important thing was the inning after the six-run inning, we tacked on. That's big to keep tacking runs on and putting pressure on them."
Reliever Sean Burnett first surrendered Washington's two-run lead in the seventh, when Johnson called on the left-hander to face Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena with one out and a man on. Pena sent the first pitch into the right-field stands, and Burnett's ERA ballooned to 5.76.
Johnson said repeatedly since his arrival 11 games ago that he would like two left-handers in his bullpen. Ross Detwiler now accompanies Burnett as more of a long man. But Burnett's sixth blown lead of the season has Johnson rethinking how he uses his lefty.
"The bullpen's been throwing great, but I just have to pick up my slack," Burnett said. "I've been pretty bad all year and am making guys throw more pitches than they should by coming in for me or maybe not me going more than one inning. I need to step up."
The bats finally did -- a long-awaited arrival for the offensive-oriented Johnson.
Hernandez started the third with a single up the middle against Cubs starter Matt Garza, and each of the next seven batters followed suit by reaching base. All of them scored, and Garza was gone after two-plus innings. But then Hernandez followed suit three innings later and momentum shifted as it clanged off the right-field pole.
"I knew it was going to happen [offensively] and I feel good about that, but that was a tough one," Johnson said. "I'm going to have a hard time sleeping tonight on that one."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.