GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Sigh.
There are ways to lose a game. And then there are ways to really lose a game. And then there's what happened tonight at Nationals Park. It was as painful as any loss this team has ever suffered, ranking alongside postseason heartbreakers, arguably even tougher to stomach than those. At least in those instances, the opponent beat the Nats. This time, the Nats beat themselves. Or, more specifically, their bullpen did.
Only moments after Michael Taylor's bases-loaded, single-plus-three-base-error left the crowd in a frenzy, with the Nationals opening up what appeared to be a commanding 7-1 lead entering the seventh inning, everything collapsed in a manner that defied explanation. Relievers Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero and Drew Storen combined to give up six runs in the inning, walking six batters along the way, two of them with the bases loaded, letting New York tie the game in stunning fashion.
Then, with no reliable relievers left at his disposal, manager Matt Williams was forced to send Jonathan Papelbon to the mound for the top of the eighth, only to watch as the closer served up the go-ahead homer to Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Everything from that point out felt like a slow funeral procession. The Nationals couldn't rally against Tyler Clippard (returning to pitch in D.C. for the first time since his trade last winter) or Jeurys Familia, and thus were dealt a devastating blow to their already long-shot chances of winning the NL East. They've now lost the first two games of this series, not to mention five in a row to the Mets, who have opened up a 6-game lead in the division with 24 to play.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: For the second straight day, it's a hit in which four Nationals scored. But the two couldn't have happened in much different fashion. Wilson Ramos brought everybody home with a towering grand slam Monday afternoon. Taylor did the same on a sharp base hit up the middle, then getting some major help from Yoenis Cespedes, who came charging for the ball in center field but let it skip right past him and nearly all the way to the wall. Taylor, playing with a banged-up knee, had no choice but to kick it into fifth gear and race 360 feet around the bases as the crowd roared. Who knows what Taylor's knee felt like at the end of that romp, but here's guessing that didn't matter too much to the rookie in that moment. By night's end, it might have been an entirely different feeling.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: In a season full of middle-inning bullpen meltdowns, this somehow eclipsed anything that came before it by miles and miles. Handed a 7-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Treinen, Rivero and Storen simply could not throw the ball over the plate. And it just kept getting more and more painful to watch. Combined, the two relievers issued six walks in the inning, one apiece with the bases loaded. The crowd was in agony throughout, Storen's teammates helpless but to watch as the right-hander threw 17 of his 22 pitches for balls. By the time Matt Grace began warming in the pen, it was too late. Storen did somehow keep the game tied, but where does this outing leave him? And what confidence do the Nationals have in him moving forward?
KEY STAT: After going hitless in three at-bats tonight, Bryce Harper is now 0-for-20 in his career vs. Matt Harvey.
UP NEXT: Wednesday night's series finale features another high-profile pitching matchup. Stephen Strasburg (8-6, 4.35) returns after having his last start skipped due to a stiff neck, set to face Jacob deGrom (12-7, 2.40).