Aramis Ramirez led off the eighth inning with a tiebreaking homer before two errors allowed Chicago to tack on three unearned runs, and the Cubs beat the Nationals 6-3 Friday night for their third straight victory.
"They helped us out some," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "They made some errors, and we needed some breaks -- and we got some breaks tonight."
Washington (18-17) lost for the fourth time in five games -- the others were each by one run -- and this time its normally reliable defense and bullpen failed it after the teams were tied at 2 through seven innings.
First, Luis Ayala (2-2), who didn't allow a run in 12 of his preceding 13 relief appearances, gave up Ramirez's seventh homer to put Chicago up 3-2. Then it really got bad, with a hit batsman, a walk and errors by catcher Gary Bennett and closer Chad Cordero making it 6-2.
After nine consecutive games without an error, Washington has five in its past two outings.
"We have to stop this little slide, playing this way. If you're going to get beat, make the other team beat you -- and we're not doing that right now," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "We're helping them beat us. We're a better ballclub than this all the way around."
After Ramirez's shot, Ayala -- making his major league-high 21st appearance -- gave up Jeromy Burnitz's double. Burnitz moved to third on Michael Barrett's sacrifice bunt, and Ayala hit Jason Dubois.
That brought on Cordero, who had never allowed an inherited runner to score in his entire major-league career, spanning 25 runners over 96 appearances. The Cubs put on a squeeze play, but Jerry Hairston didn't connect, putting Burnitz in a rundown. Third baseman Vinny Castilla's throw home glanced off Bennett's glove, allowing Burnitz to score for a 4-2 Cubs lead.
"I just missed it," said Bennett, a reserve making his eighth start of the season. "There's no other way to put it."
Robinson called it "a fundamental error."
After Hairston walked, and pinch-hitter Todd Hollandsworth struck out, Corey Patterson hit a roller down the first-base line. Cordero tried to scoop the ball with his glove but lofted it way over first baseman Nick Johnson's head for a two-base error that allowed two runs to score.
So Cordero inherited two runners, and both came home.
"It was all my fault. I'll have to go out there the next chance I get and not allow any runs," Cordero said. "The three errors we made today -- it was not like us."
Castilla added a throwing error in the ninth, but it didn't result in any more damage.
The miscues were "embarrassing, but not deflating," Robinson said, pointing to the bottom of the ninth. That's when Washington scored its third run on pinch-hitter Tony Blanco's RBI double, then loaded the bases with two outs for cleanup hitter Jose Guillen. But Todd Wellemeyer, Chicago's sixth pitcher, got Guillen to fly out to deep right for his first save since 2003.
"This park is pretty big, so I'm thankful for that," Wellemeyer said.
Will Ohman (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh for his first win since Sept. 22, 2000. Cubs starter Glendon Rusch gave up two runs and six hits -- and contributed two singles.
After a seven-game losing streak dropped the Cubs to 12-17, they have won four of their last five games.
The Nationals, meanwhile, wasted another strong outing (two runs, six hits, seven innings) from Esteban Loaiza, who hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his past seven starts. But the Nationals have scored a total of 13 runs in his last five.
"He can't will the runs across home plate for us. He's doing what he gets paid to do. I just hope he doesn't get down on himself or the team," Robinson said.
In addition to failing to complete the comeback in the ninth, Washington wasted chances for big innings in the second -- when Henry Mateo missed a bunt attempt on a squeeze play and Johnson was caught in a rundown -- and the sixth, when pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga grounded into a double play with the bases loaded.
"We just don't seem to be able to win those games right now," Robinson said. "We just don't seem to be able to get the key hits, drive in the key runs, get a runner from third base in. We're not doing the little things now."