GAME IN A NUTSHELL: For the first time all season, the Nationals took the field to play a game in which they were not a part of a pennant race. With playoff elimination behind them, all that's left are the eight meaningless games against NL East opponents that could have been do-or-die had the Nats not squandered their opportunity.
But what seemed like a routine back-and-forth affair between two struggling division rivals was quickly overshadowed by a more troubling development between Bryce Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon. The 22-year-old superstar intimated days earlier that he was not thrilled with Papelbon's decision to throw at Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, so it was natural to assume that tensions between the two were rising.
Fast forward to Sunday, where after Harper flied to left in a 4-4 game in the eighth inning, Papelbon appeared to yell obscenities in his direction, inciting a brief dugout scuffle. The sequence was followed by the decisive ninth that saw the closer charged with five runs (two earned) in what was one of the worst moments of the season.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The second inning featured fireworks from Ian Desmond and Matt den Dekker. Desmond, very likely playing his final games as a National, hit a solo shot to get Washington on the board. That was immediately followed by den Dekker's homer, an estimated 449-foot blast that hit off the back wall near right center.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: After Papelbon and Harper's scuffle in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats closer took the mound in the following frame of a 4-4 game. His task was only keep the game tied, but to fend off an increasingly hostile home crowd. Neither happened. With every ensuing miscue, the D.C. faithful unloaded a wave of boos and hurled other unpleasantries towards the 34-year-old right hander. To make matters worse, he gave them reason to; Papelbon yielded the go-ahead two-run homer to Andres Blanco before allowing three more hitters to reach base. By the time Matt Williams came to the mound to make a pitching change, Nats Park serenaded Papelbon with perhaps the most vociferous booing any player has received at home. The Phillies scored eight runs total in the inning, capping off one of the uglier moments in an already disappointing season.
KEY STAT: In his career, den Dekker has five home runs. Four of them have been hit this season, his first with the Nats.
UP NEXT: The 2015 home finale, a 3:05 p.m. makeup tilt vs. the Cincinnati Reds. Max Scherzer (12-12, 2.98 ERA) and left hander Brandon Finnegan (4-1, 3.65 ERA) are on the mound.
MORE NATIONALS: Harper, Papelbon fight in Nationals dugout