By the time the bottom of the eighth inning concluded, images of Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper's dugout scuffle had just begun to circulate around Nats Park.
Given the emotions exerted between the two (Harper was seen charging into the clubhouse in frustration) and the fact that Papelbon had already pitched the previous frame, it seemed like manager Matt Williams would give both participants of the melee the rest of the day off, if for no other reason than to cool down.
Harper did indeed hit the showers, but Papelbon didn't join him. Instead, the 34-year-old reliever came right back to the mound for the ninth to pitch in front of an increasingly hostile crowd. So why did Williams sit his best player, yet let his volatile closer stay in the game?
"At the time it’s a tie game," Williams explained. "That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. He’s our closer. He's our closer. In a tie game, he’s in the ballgame in the ninth inning."
To say the decision backfired on the Nats' skipper would be an understatement. It not only set up a 12-5 loss, but gave way to one of the ugliest scenes of an already disappointing season. As Papelbon yielded baserunner after baserunner, the crowd of 28,661 hurled boos and other unpleasantries in his direction as he continued to implode. In all, he allowed five runs (two earned) en route to taking the loss in what without question was his worst moment in a Nats uniform.
"I'm never gonna say that because I went out there and gave up some runs that it's anything other than me not pitching to my capabilities," Papelbon said of the ninth inning. "I really went out there and didn't locate [on] my fastball and fell behind on hitters. Any time you do that, the outcome is usually not going to be good. But [the scuffle] didn't affect how I pitched, no."