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.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
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.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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