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Mets 8, Nats 5: Back-and-forth opener goes to N.Y.

Sep 7, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT


GAME IN A NUTSHELL: There was a different energy in the air this afternoon as the Nationals and Mets opened a 3-game series unlike anything previously seen in these parts. True pennant race baseball has come to D.C. The fans felt it. The players and managers certainly seemed to feel it, as well, resulting in a nip-and-tuck ballgame with loads of pitching changes and other assorted moments for strategy not typically used in a regular-season contest.

In the end, the Nationals lost this game because an issue that has plagued them all summer, whether facing elite competition or also-rans: An inability by their starting pitcher to go deep, and the an inability by the relievers summoned by Matt Williams to bridge the gap to the back of their bullpen.

Max Scherzer once again was victimized by the home run, surrendering three of them early (to Michael Conforto, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes) to put his team in a 3-0 hole. The Nationals stormed back, with Wilson Ramos’ fourth-inning grand slam giving them the lead and leaving the crowd in a frenzy.

But Scherzer couldn’t make the most of that offensive support, giving up runs in the fifth and sixth to tie the game up and leave it in the shaky hands of the middle of the Nationals’ bullpen. That group again couldn’t get the job done. Four pitchers (Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, Casey Janssen and Matt Thornton) combined to allow the go-ahead run and then two tack-on runs during a messy seventh inning. The Mets’ equally equally beleaguered bullpen, meanwhile, shut down the Nats lineup after starter Jonathan Niese was knocked out in the fourth.

And so all the positive momentum the Nationals acquired over the weekend went back New York’s way, their deficit in the NL East back up to 5 games, with now back-to-back must-win affairs coming up Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Had the Nationals won this game, Ramos’ grand slam would’ve stood out as a defining moment, perhaps not only on this day but in the season. It didn’t ultimately matter, but that didn’t make it any less impressive. Stepping to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth, the Nats catcher fell behind in the count 1-2 with some bad-looking swings. But then he somehow reached down to crush Niese’s slider below the knees deep to left field and over the visiting bullpen, a monster shot for a grand slam that gave the Nationals the lead and left the crowd of 34,210 in a frenzy.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: If some of the concerns about Scherzer’s recent struggles were alleviated during his strong outing in St. Louis last week, they are back in full force now after another confounding start this afternoon. The problem, as it has been too often in the last month, has been the long ball. The Mets hit three homers off Scherzer in this game, none of them tape-measure shots but all hit just well enough to clear the fence. They hit plenty more flyballs well, including a couple to the warning track. So that’s now 11 home runs surrendered by Scherzer in his last 34 innings, a disturbing trend for the Nats ace. And then there was the balk called on him with a man on second and one out in what was still a 5-4 game in the sixth, a huge call that put Cespedes in position to score on Travis d’Arnaud’s sac fly.

KEY STAT: The Nationals have now lost 15 games this season when leading after five innings while winning seven times when trailing after five. Last season, they lost only eight times when leading after five while winning 14 times when trailing after five.

UP NEXT: All eyes Tuesday night will be on Matt Harvey, the subject of so much attention and scrutiny from here on out, when the Mets right-hander (12-7, 2.60) takes the mound for what could be his last start for awhile. Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 3.38) knows all about September shutdowns, but he’s got no restrictions on him for this, or any other starts the rest of the way.

  1. unkyd59 - Sep 7, 2015 at 4:36 PM


  2. GNat - Sep 7, 2015 at 4:39 PM

    Max is entering Fister territory since the Allstar break. Except he’s got his money already. I wish he would be a little more upset about his performance and offer some indication he’s going to get better.

  3. phillygirl1807 - Sep 7, 2015 at 4:41 PM

    Ugh. Our team choked. Our hitters struck out again and again. And what is the matter with Scherzer? There must be something wrong with him physically. For much of the game it looked like he was pitching batting practice. How could MW allow Scherzer to hit in the bottom of the 5th with two men on bases? What was he thinking? Our middle relief is just awful – but here was a chance to score two more runs. And you can never have too many of those. Just a big disappointment today!

    • NatsLady - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:37 PM

      I think there might BE something wrong with him physically. The other day, when the question came up why no chocolate syrup, there was a note that Scherzer was ill and had to be restrained by trainers from going out to celebrate. I wonder if he’s got some long-term illness like an upper respiratory thing or “walking pneumonia” that has dragged him down these last few weeks.

  4. 3on2out - Sep 7, 2015 at 4:44 PM

    MW mismanaged Scherzer badly in this one. He obviously had nothing and he let him hit for himself in the 5th with 2 outs and 2 on. He had thrown 90 pitches thru 5. Time to pull the plug… A pinch hit might have turned the game around.

    • fpa4356 - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:05 PM

      I do not understand MW’s willingness to just give up outs, this time with men on 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the 5th, especially since it was clear that Scherzer had to come out. Come back out, why ? To give up a double to the now MVP candidate, Cespedes ? I know it’s hard to make decisions under pressure, but why aren’t the coaches saying anything ? It is bizarre. It’s a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may style that just doesn’t work in the modern game.

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Sep 7, 2015 at 4:55 PM

    The game really represented a microcosm of the season — inconsistent to downright poor pitching from both the starters and the relievers, some sloppy defense that may well have cost a run or two, a few big hits, but those then followed by silence from the bats, and some questionable moves by the dugout. You can overcome (almost) any one of those, but not all of them in the same game.

    • fpa4356 - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:07 PM

      And now the Mets must feel like world-beaters again. There’s little pressure on them now.

  6. janebeard - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:12 PM

    Oh my. Why didn’t he pinch hit for Max? We’d still have awful pen support. But we might also have had runs.

  7. Mike Gallagher - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    Pinch hit for Max in the 5th? To get to our glorious middle bullpen even sooner? Idiotic. The Nats deserve a better commentariat.

    • stoatva - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:38 PM

      For one thing, we’d have had a decent shot at having a bigger lead had CRob or MdD been allowed to hit there. No guarantees, but that felt like giving up to me. And as if to prove it the Nats didn’t get another hit until Werth’s single in the ninth.

    • Guapo - Sep 7, 2015 at 8:05 PM

      I’m with you Mike. Scherzer wasn’t great today, but I’ll take my chances with him vs. the Nats pen any day.

  8. Sam - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:29 PM

    Not that this is the reason we lost the game (hello, bullpen), but the “quick pitch” is illegal. The umpires did a poor (read: lazy and pathetic) job of enforcing the rules of Baseball today.

    From the 2015 Baseball Rulebook:

    “Rule 5.07(a)(2) Comment (Rule 8.01(b) Comment): With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 5.07(f)(5) Comment (Rule 8.05(e) Comment).”

    • Tyson - Sep 7, 2015 at 9:16 PM

      So the 2 quick pitches, one of which occurred in an 0-2 count and the other a 1-2 count with no one on and the Nats trailing by 3 in each situation were the problems? What about the other 200 odd pitches thrown? What about terrible approaches against the Mets bullpen of being far too aggressive and then Rendon being so passive he looked like he was in a coma when his at bat was the gateway to getting Harper and Zimmerman up as the tying runs?

      P.S. I never knew the quick pitch was illegal. That’s shocking to me. Still, negligible effect on this game- even if we enforce the penalty, that’s still Zimmerman at 1-2 and Taylor at 2-2.

    • Andrew - Sep 8, 2015 at 7:52 AM

      What Robles did in Philadelphia that had their bench so upset was dangerous and illegal. He pitched before the batter was set, when the batter’s head was down (and the umpire rightly invalided the pitch). What he did against Zimmerman was NOT against the rules. Zim was set in the box (albeit just for second). All Robles did was skip the pause in his delivery. That’s perfectly legitimate if no men are on base, and the umpire rightly allowed the pitch to stand.

  9. Karl Kolchak - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:47 PM

    Biggest game of the year and Scherzer and Harper lay a big fat goose egg. If those two had played up to the moment the Nats would have won the game.

    The leader of our season ticket group is a lifelong Detroit fan and said the other day that Scherzer is really no better than Jordan Zimmermann. At the time I scoffed, but now I wonder if even with all the strikeouts he is even Jordan’s equal.

    • Guapo - Sep 7, 2015 at 8:08 PM

      Harper has LITERALLY carried this team on his back this season.

      I hope yours was a troll post, because if you are being serious, I’m at a loss for words.

      • Karl Kolchak - Sep 7, 2015 at 11:21 PM

        If you are at a loss for words, I can’t help you. Harper wants to be on the biggest stage, and he FAILED today. That’s all I was saying about him.

      • Guapo - Sep 8, 2015 at 8:11 AM

        Oh and was also the only guy in the lineup who produced vs. the Giants in the NLDS last Fall. But go ahead and pass judgement on the likely NL MVP for one 0-4 game in a season. Solid analysis.

  10. Nats Fan Zee - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:53 PM

    Was at the game today and it got very loud when Wilson hit the grand slam. As for Max, he had nothing today. yes he gave up 3 HR’s but he also gave up 4 doubles and a bunch of long fly outs but no singles. In other words, they hit him hard from the 1st batter (double). If a casual fan like me can see that from section 140, surely Williams could see that from his vantage point. No way should Max have batted …. No way!

    Now we have to win both remaining games just to remain a threat.

  11. Section 222 - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:56 PM

    MMN is 21, with 26 remaining. Nats really need to win the next two.

    • Section 222 - Sep 7, 2015 at 5:58 PM

      Sorry, 25 remaining.

    • philipd763 - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:13 PM

      Chances of winning against Harvey and deGrom are very slim, especially with MW managing the team.

  12. micksback1 - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:11 PM

    Just got back from the game. i was able to go to te last 3 Braves game and today sso winning 3 of 4 aint bad. BUT….

    1) max has gone from Beast to BUST, very down on him. this is why we got him!

    2) Mets BP should have been gassed from series with Marlins and we seemed gutless in the last 3 innings at the plate.

    3) I am down on so many Mets fans at the Park…what the F is up with that???

    5) Are stars were terrible today, Bryce, etc…Mets Stars manned up, period!

  13. micksback1 - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    I am ashamed at the Nats fans who did not show today…if we are a big time team we needed to be there and we were not

    Jansen is a loser are BP SUCKS!!!

    • Karl Kolchak - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:20 PM

      The fans weren’t there over the weekend either. Stadium was half full yesterday, and half of those that were there were gone after the 7th inning.

      It was shameful that in the 9th with the team closing out a big win on a beautiful day that there were maybe 12,000 people still in the stands.

  14. micksback1 - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    All the drama with harvey and Mets still kicked our ass in our park

  15. kkpp3 - Sep 7, 2015 at 6:18 PM

    Why did Williams let Scherzer hit in the fifth and pitch in the sixth? Oh yeah, it’s because he doesn’t trust the middle relief. Why doesn’t he trust the middle relief? Oh yeah, it’s because Rizzo built a lousy bullpen. And why didn’t Rizzo pay more attention to the bullpen? Oh yeah, it was because he had built the best starting rotation in baseball. But wait … “The best starting rotation in baseball” ???? What a load of horse picky. I’m guessing Scherzer’s contract applies to entire seasons, not just the first half. Maybe the Nats should hold back half his salary for being AWOL since the All Star break

  16. BatBoy - Sep 8, 2015 at 1:24 AM

    Bryce is Nice! Case Closed! How dare any Nats Fan say Otherwise! He rules! Shame on all of you that say he’s not the Best Player that we have ever, ever, ever seen our lifetime! Every at bat is better than seeing a No No! And, he is Perfect in so many ways! So, Many! Love Bryce! Until you can do better, stop bashing, best Baseball Player in the History of Baseball!!!! At age of 19, 20, 21, 22! GYFNG!





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)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
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