Aug 1, 2015, 6:00 AM EST
There were any number of moments Friday night at Citi Field that could have stood on their own merits as epic examples of what pennant race baseball is all about. Matt Harvey taking the mound for the eighth inning with the Mets up 1-0, then giving up the tying hit to Yunel Escobar. Tyler Clippard entering out of the bullpen and engaging in a 13-pitch at-bat with Jayson Werth that ended with the right-hander striking out his ex-teammate. Bryce Harper getting ejected in the 11th inning after going ballistic on plate umpire Jerry Meals for a questionable strike three call.
And, of course, Wilmer Flores — the Mets shortstop who 48 hours earlier found himself crying on the field after being told he was being traded to Milwaukee — launching a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th to bring New York — yes, he’s still in New York, the trade having blown up — to within 2 games of Washington the NL East.
For the impartial observer, this was great theater, as great as it gets on the final day of July. For anyone affiliated with the Nationals, this was a harsh blow that if nothing else proved this: The Mets aren’t going away.
Yes, we’ve got ourselves an old-fashioned pennant race brewing in the NL East.
Maybe the Nationals will pull away and take control of this thing at some point. But there’s no reason to simply assume that anymore, not given the way they’ve played through the season’s first four months and certainly not given the way the Mets have hung in there and now bolstered their lights-out pitching staff with some much-needed offensive punch.
As for Friday night’s instant classic…
— The Werth-Clippard showdown was worth the price of admission alone. The at-bat, which came in a 1-1 game with two out and two on in the top of the eighth, lasted 13 pitches, featured seven foul balls (including pitches 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12) and ended with a borderline strike three call at the knees. Werth, clearly believing the pitch was low, started walking toward first base only to be stopped dead in his tracks by Meals, who had a rough night in the consistency department. Werth, though, let his opinion be known without saying or doing anything to jeopardize his status within the game … something Harper would have been wise to note.
— Harper’s fateful at-bat in the top of the 11th represented the most frustrating juncture of the evening, because it encapsulated the Nationals’ struggles to put anything on the board outside of Escobar’s RBI single in the eighth. It also encapsulated one of Harper’s few flaws during a potential MVP season: The inability to control his temper at the most critical moments. Yes, Meals’ strike three call was bad, particularly because he called two previous pitches in the at-bat in nearly identical spots balls. But it doesn’t matter how bad the call was, Harper simply cannot let himself be ejected in that situation. Meals gave him ample opportunity to avoid the heave-ho, twice saying “Knock it off!” as Harper screamed in his face. Harper couldn’t help himself, and so Meals was entirely in his right to eject the young star. That alone didn’t ultimately cost the Nationals the game, but the fact it forced Matt Williams to play Ryan Zimmerman in left field for the first time this season and Dan Uggla at first base for the first time in his career underscored how ill-advised Harper’s actions were.
— About the Nats’ bullpen usage. It felt a bit odd, no? They only used three relievers in a 12-inning game in which the starter was pulled in the fifth. Tanner Roark went 2 1/3 innings in relief of Gonzalez. Aaron Barrett turned in two dominant innings to send this one to extras. And then Felipe Rivero tossed a scoreless 10th and a scoreless 11th before being sent back to the mound for the 12th having already thrown 19 pitches. What happened? Well, Matt Williams acknowledged to reporters afterward that two members of his bullpen were unavailable, though he wouldn’t specify which two. This much we do know: Both Matt Thornton and Jonathan Papelbon warmed up at one point, suggesting each was indeed available. That leaves Casey Janssen and Drew Storen as having been unavailable. Storen pitched the last two days in Miami, so it stands to reason he’d need a night off. Janssen, though, had appeared only once in the previous four days, so that seems odd. Keep an eye on him moving forward.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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