What makes the Nationals getting swept by the Mets this week so devastating was not only the fact it all but pulled the plug on their postseason hopes. What added to their misery was that all three games featured unique breaks - at least for this team in this particular year - that would normally lead to victories.
In Monday's loss it was a grand slam by Wilson Ramos. In Tuesday's loss it was a Little League grand slam by Michael Taylor aided by a Yoenis Cespedes error. And on Wednesday they got something they had not seen since Aug. 10: their starting pitcher recorded an out in the eighth inning.
Yes, it had been 28 games and 30 days since Gio Gonzalez secured an eighth-inning out against the Dodgers. The last time before that was Max Scherzer on July 12 at Baltimore.
Stephen Strasburg put in one of his best starts all season, and in terms of strikeouts one of the best of his career, and it still wasn't enough. It still couldn't overcome the Nats bullpen, which has become a series of horror films with more sequels than Saw.
Strasburg was brilliant, striking out 13 batters which is just one short of the career-high he set in his 2010 MLB debut. It was his first outing in 10 days after missing a start with an injury, and he returned with conviction. His fastball sat in the upper 90s with precision and his curveball hooked and snapped through the strikezone.
"Stras came in and threw great today. One of the best games I’ve seen him throw all year," Bryce Harper said. "That curveball was absolutely devastating today."
"Stephen threw the ball extremely well tonight," Ian Desmond added. "He threw the heck out of his curveball and he was locating his fastball. Coming off the year that he's had, that was a big-time performance."
Strasburg's curveball secured the third strike on nine of his 13 punchouts. The other four were on his fastball. That combination helped Strasburg finish with only two runs allowed in 7 1/3 innings of work, tying his longest start of the season.
Strasburg said afterwards he felt great throughout the outing, but was superstitious when asked if it was his best stuff of the season.
"I don't know. It's been such an up-and-down year. It seems like when everything starts to click, then something happens. I'm just trying to stay positive, just trying to keep fighting and keep grinding. That's all I can do," he said.
Strasburg made it to the eighth inning, which appeared to be a significant break for the Nats' bullpen, but he exited soon after allowing the game-tying run.
The Mets called on Kelly Johnson to pinch-hit for Wilmer Flores to lead off the eighth inning. Johnson pulled a 2-0 pitch to the second deck in right field to lock the game up at 2-2 and eventually bounce Strasburg from the game.
"I just made a bad pitch to Johnson," Strasburg explained. "What are the chances? Fresh off the bench and he takes me upper deck. Just gotta tip your cap there."
Strasburg faced two more batters before manager Matt Williams emerged from the dugout to a spattering of boos from the 27,530 in attendance at Nationals Park. His choice to replace Strasburg was Drew Storen, and the fans had a bad feeling about what would happen next.
Cespedes made those fears come true, just as he did the night before. This time the Nationals got much closer to avoiding disaster. They just couldn't fully get out of harm's way.