GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Jacob deGrom may be the reigning NL Rookie of the Year and may have been coming off a lights-out performance in the All-Star Game last week, but for six innings Tuesday night, Joe Ross was the more-impressive young right-hander on the mound at Nationals Park. Then came the top of the seventh, when this game abruptly turned in the Mets' favor and continued down that path until it was too late for the Nats to recover.
Eric Campbell's 2-run single to right off Aaron Barrett (who was brought in to replace Ross) turned a 1-run Nationals lead into a 1-run Nationals deficit. That clutch hit came shortly after first baseman Clint Robinson couldn't handle a grounder to his left, an error that set in motion the Mets' go-ahead rally. Poor defense became a common theme late, with Bryce Harper overthrowing the plate by 20 feet on the decisive hit and Matt den Dekker's throw to second base skipping past Danny Espinosa to help set in motion the Mets' 4-run rally in the top of the ninth that put the game out of reach.
Ross had been fantastic, allowing one run over his first six innings and out-pitching deGrom, who was no slouch himself in allowing just two runs (on Wilson Ramos' homer) during his six innings of work. But with his teammates unable to mount anything more at the plate, Ross was left to take a hard-luck loss.
The Nationals, meanwhile, looked mighty sloppy in the field one night after playing their best defensive game of the season. And so they have seen their lead in the NL East drop back to 2 games entering Wednesday afternoon's series finale.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: For a brief while, it looked like Ramos would be the offensive star of the night. The Nats catcher had only 10 hits over his previous 64 at-bats, only two of them for extra bases. But he managed to stay back on deGrom's 98-mph fastball over the outside corner and drilled it to right field, just over the wall for a 2-run homer. That's the kind of swing Ramos consistently shows when he's in a good groove at the plate, and it's the kind of swing he hasn't shown much of late. If that's a sign of things to come, the Nationals will be all the better for it.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Making his first big-league start in a month, Ross picked up right where he left off. The 22-year-old right-hander was aggressive, going right at New York's hitters, using his fastball and slider effectively and not looking at all unprepared for the moment. His only real hiccup came in the top of the fourth, when he needed 29 pitches to get out of a jam with only one run scoring. Yes, two more runs scored in the top of the seventh, but that was a direct result of Robinson's fielding error and then the 2-run single Barrett allowed to Campbell. In the end, Ross allowed two earned runs and four hits in 6 1/3 innings, walking none and striking out four ... yet took the loss. Tough outcome for the rookie on this night.
KEY STAT: With an 0-for-3 performance Tuesday, Bryce Harper has gone hitless in in back-to-back games for the first time since May 4-5 vs. the Marlins.
UP NEXT: The series wraps up at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday with another great pitching matchup. It's Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.27) for the Nats and Noah Syndergaard (4-5, 3.05) for the Mets.