GAME IN A NUTSHELL: You want pennant race baseball? Here you go, folks. A few short hours after the trade deadline passed, the Nationals and Mets opened a big weekend series that will play a significant role in the outcome of this season's NL East race. And it was everything you could want it to be. And some things you never wanted it to be.
Matt Harvey carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, but the New York ace was left with no margin for error because the Nationals pitching staff managed to limit the Mets to one run (with Gio Gonzalez avoiding disaster during a walk-filled bottom of the fourth).
Harvey continued into the top of the eighth, despite a pitch count approaching 110 and command that was losing its sharpness. That's when Yunel Escobar came through with a game-tying, 2-out RBI single up the middle, dashing the Citi Field crowd's hopes and leaving Harvey with no decision. Then came Tyler Clippard, facing his old club for the first time, engaging in an epic, 13-pitch at-bat with Jayson Werth that ended on a borderline 3-2 pitch called a strike.
Aaron Barrett tossed two scoreless innings out of the Nationals bullpen, and so this game went into extras. The Nats couldn't push anything across against Mets closer Jeurys Familia, nor could they do it against Hansel Robles. Robles, though, was helped by a borderline strike three call on Bryce Harper, which left the young star screaming in umpire Jerry Meals' face ... and subsequently getting ejected, forcing Ryan Zimmerman to left field and Dan Uggla to first base for the first time in his career.
That ultimately didn't affect the outcome of the game. But Wilmer Flores sure did. The Mets infielder, who was in tears two nights ago when he thought he had been traded to Milwaukee, ended this game with a home run off Felipe Rivero that sent the crowd into a frenzy and left New York a mere 2 games behind the Nationals.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: With Harvey fading in the eighth, two out and two on, Escobar delivered the biggest hit of the night (to that point) for the Nationals. He didn't bite at Harvey's pitches out of the zone, then managed to get on top of a high fastball and send it back up the middle for a huge, game-tying single that knocked the Mets ace out of the game. It was merely the latest quality at-bat from Escobar, who has proven quite the important acquisition for the Nationals.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: The bad news: Gonzalez was all over the place during the fourth and fifth innings, issuing four combined walks during those two frames and putting himself in all kinds of danger. The good news: Gonzalez somehow was able to emerge from all of that allowing only one run to cross the plate. (Some credit, of course, goes to Tanner Roark for bailing the starter out in the fifth.) Gonzalez was visibly upset at himself — and possibly Matt Williams — as everything played out, but the quick hook was necessary given the situation. With Harvey dealing for the Mets, Williams couldn't afford to risk pushing his starter any farther.
KEY STAT: Matt Harvey retired 30 consecutive Nationals batters over the span of two starts. The streak began after a Jose Lobaton walk in the third inning on July 20 at Nationals Park. It ended with a Jose Lobaton single in the sixth inning Friday night.
UP NEXT: The series continues at 7:10 p.m. Saturday when Joe Ross (2-3, 3.03) faces Jacob deGrom (10-6, 2.05) in another big game at Citi Field.
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