GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It couldn't happen again. Could it? Well, yes, it could. And the latest installment of A Nightmare on South Capitol Street wasn't any easier for the Nationals or their fans to watch.
Leading by 2 runs entering the eighth inning behind a dominant performance from Stephen Strasburg (13 strikeouts) and offensive heroics from Bryce Harper (2 homers and a double), Nationals manager Matt Williams turned to his beleaguered bullpen, hoping beyond hope that group could record the five remaining outs necessary to salvage one win in this make-or-break series.
Instead, Drew Storen imploded yet again. Tuesday's meltdown was a slow drip: six walks issued by Storen and his fellow relievers. This one was a swift hammer to the side of the head: a 2-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes that left the crowd of 27,530 in sheer, utter disbelief.
As boos cascaded down on Storen, Williams and others, the Nationals tried in vain to mount a last-ditch rally, unable to pull it off. And so their season has perhaps come down to this defining stat: Their last five losses have all come in games they led entering the sixth inning or later. Had they closed those games out, they would actually lead the NL East right now by 1 game. Instead, they trail by 7.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It had been a brutal series for Harper, and really a brutal season against the Mets. (He entered this game owning a .214 batting average and only one homer against New York so far in 2015.) But that changed in a hurry when Harper managed to turn on a 97-mph, up-and-in fastball from Jacob deGrom in the bottom of the first, launching his 35th homer of the year. Harper then hammered another 97-mph deGrom fastball in the fourth, sending a leadoff double to the gap in right-center and setting the stage to score the Nationals' second run of the night. And for good measure, he launched a 3-1 pitch from Tyler Clippard down the right-field line for another homer in the eighth. Harper wound up with 10 total bases in the game. Alas, all four of his at-bats came with the bases empty.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: This should have been a night to celebrate Strasburg, who was absolutely brilliant after missing a start with a recurrence of the neck issue that plagued him earlier this season. The right-hander struck out 13 over 7 1/3 innings, coming up one shy of the career mark he set five years ago in his major-league debut. Alas, that was a mere footnote at the end of the night, because of what happened after Strasburg departed (admittedly after he surrendered the game-tying homer to Kelly Johnson and then a sharp single to Curtis Granderson). Williams emerged from the dugout and signaled for Storen, who entered to a chorus of boos. And two pitches later, those boos were full-throated after Storen hung a 1-0 curveball to Cespedes and watched the ball soar into the left-field bullpen.
KEY STAT: Nationals pitchers gave up home runs on only 2.2 percent of all at-bats during the season's first half. They've given up homers on 3.3 percent of at-bats since the All-Star break.
UP NEXT: The Nationals will try to enjoy a day off before opening up a weekend series in Miami. Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.96) faces Jarred Cosart (1-4, 5.04) in Friday's 7:10 p.m. EDT game at Marlins Park.