GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Everything was going according to plan for the Nationals. Jordan Zimmermann dominated on the mound. Several key members of the lineup delivered big hits to give their team the lead. All that was left was for the back end of the bullpen to finish it off. But that's when things stopped going according to plan, and as a result the Nats were left with the sting of perhaps their harshest loss of the season.
Zimmermann cruised most of the night, carrying a shutout into the seventh before giving up a couple of hits that gave the Rockies their first run and brought an end to the right-hander's evening. Still, the Nationals led 4-1 thanks to RBI from the heart of their lineup: Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond.
Matt Williams' ideal bullpen scenario was in place, with Casey Janssen finishing the seventh in Zimmermann's place, then Drew Storen brought in for the eighth. And Storen very nearly got out of the inning unscathed, until a sudden turn of events left the bases loaded for Carlos Gonzalez, who proceeded to crush a 1-0 fastball to right field for a game-changing grand slam.
Needing now to mount a rally against Colorado's bullpen, the Nationals couldn't deliver one more key hit. Michael Taylor struck out to end the eighth with Desmond standing on third base, and brand-new closer Tommy Kahnle notched his first career save by striking out Harper with two outs in the ninth. Then, to add insult to injury, the Mets rallied in the ninth inning to beat the Rays, leaving the Nats now 2 1/2 games back in the NL East at the end of a ragged week.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: If the Nationals' lineup is going to live up to its potential, the guys hitting right behind Harper are going to have to do their part. They did in this game. Zimmerman roped a run-scoring double to right-center in the bottom of the fourth, his fifth straight game driving in a run. Two innings later, Werth (owner of a .190 batting average) did his job and sent a fly ball deep enough to center field to bring a run home. And moments later, Desmond drilled an RBI double to left, adding to the Nats' lead. That's one RBI apiece from the Nats' 4-5-6 hitters, a welcome development for this club.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Whatever concern there had been about Storen's ability to deal with his reduced role after the Jonathan Papelbon trade had more than been assuaged over the last week and a half, with Storen tossing five consecutive scoreless appearances without giving up even one hit. And then in the span of a couple of minutes in the eighth inning of this game, that storyline completely changed. It began innocently enough, with Storen issuing a one-out walk to Daniel Descalso and then surrendering a two-out single to Jose Reyes. But when Nolan Arenado legged out a slow roller to third, the bases were now loaded for the red-hot Gonzalez. And when Storen left a 1-0 fastball up in the zone, CarGo did what he's supposed to do: He crushed it off the back wall of the right-field bullpen, a grand slam that left the crowd silent. It was only the second homer surrendered by Storen this season, the first grand slam he has ever surrendered in the big leagues.
KEY STAT: Harper is now hitting .324 with a .452 on-base percentage and .598 slugging percentage against left-handers this season.
UP NEXT: Stephen Strasburg returns from the DL to start Saturday night's game against Rockies right-hander and Virginia native Eddie Butler. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.