As the ball soared toward the right-field bleachers and the previously raucous crowd of 44,990 fell dead-silent, the visitors dugout at Citizens Bank Park sprung to life. In a season with precious few moments of true elation, Chad Tracy's down-to-the-last-strike home run in the top of the ninth Monday night was about as good as it's been for the Nationals.

One pitch away from a ho-hum loss to the Phillies, the Nationals now had new life, Tracy having delivered a game-tying homer on an 0-2 pitch for the second time in 72 hours. The prevailing sentiment in the dugout: This game was theirs now.

"You gotta play the game, but when you tie it up, I think all of us had a feeling," Tracy said. "We expected to win, sure."

A feeling that had vanquished into thin air only 10 minutes later when Fernando Abad surrendered his third single of the bottom of the ninth, this one a soft liner up the middle by Domonic Brown, bringing Ben Revere home with the run that dealt the Nationals a 5-4, punch-to-the-gut loss.

"You tie it up late, and everybody's emotions are running high and everybody's feeling good," Tracy said. "And then they come out and put some good at-bats together at the end and steal it right back from you."

For 2 1/2 months now, the Nationals have been searching for a momentum-turner, a string of victories that would reset this season on an upward path at last. But every time they appear to be headed in that direction, they're stopped dead in their tracks, finding new and more excruciating ways to lose ballgames.

This one stung as much as any this season. Not because it was a particularly well-played game. Dan Haren was erratic again, yielding four runs over six innings. John Lannan wasn't especially sharp either in his return from the DL and his first career start against the franchise that drafted him eight years ago but emerged having allowed only two runs over five innings.