Sep 9, 2015, 1:18 AM EDT
In a season full of letdown losses, blown opportunities and bullpen implosions, and for a franchise that has experienced far more heartbreak than any team should through their first 11 years of existence, it’s hard to compare a regular season defeat for the Nationals to their infamous playoff disasters.
This one, though, this one was bad.
It had all the makings of a Nationals fan’s nightmare. A six-run lead vanished before their eyes. Drew Storen completely lost command of the strikezone. A lineup that dominated an opponent’s ace went dormant once he was removed. Even former ally Tyler Clippard carved them up in a key spot.
The end result was an 8-7 loss to the New York Mets, one that dropped the Nationals to six games back in the NL East. But the after-effects of this particular defeat could be felt for months.
“This one is tough to swallow,” Jayson Werth said. “This is probably the toughest loss, I’m not gonna say in my career, but it’s right up there.”
Everything was going so well when Matt Harvey was on the mound. Despite entering the day with a 0.99 ERA against the Nats – the best mark ever for a starter against one franchise through eight career starts – he was bounced in the sixth inning after giving up a career-high seven runs. That’s more than he had given up in his previous six outings this season combined.
And Jordan Zimmermann did his job as Harvey’s counterpart. The Nationals right-hander kept the Mets to only one run through 5 2/3 innings on three hits and a walk. He exited with a 3-1 lead and the Nats added four more in the following frame on what some would call a Little League grand slam by Michael Taylor.
Up six runs, Nats manager Matt Williams turned to Blake Treinen to begin the seventh inning, and that’s where things fell apart. The right-hander, who had given up runs in two of his previous three outings, found trouble again. He allowed a single to David Wright, a walk to Michael Conforto and then an RBI single to Wilmer Flores.
Now holding a 7-2 lead with two outs, Williams summoned lefty Felipe Rivero. Rivero had allowed a run in his previous outing, but was otherwise effective in recent weeks.
Rivero faced only two batters and walked both of them. The second walk, to Curtis Granderson, came with the bases loaded and scored another run to make it 7-3.
Then it was Storen’s turn. Storen was called on an inning earlier than usual, but Williams had little choice. It was either his eighth inning guy, or essentially a take-your-pick from a group of unproven rookies.
Storen got the nod and what followed was a staggering display of inaccuracy. Storen threw 22 total pitches in his quest to get one out. Only seven of them were strikes.
He began by serving up a missile of a double to Cespedes to the left field corner. It cleared the bases and put the Mets within one.
Storen then walked Daniel Murphy to put two men on and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Wright walked to load the bases again before lefty Lucas Duda came to the plate.
It wasn’t until Storen went down 2-0 against Duda that Williams decided to make a call to the bullpen, and by that time it was too late. Matt Grace barely got loose before Storen walked Duda to tie the game at 7-7.
“It’s a fine line, not trying to give in there,” Storen said. “You gotta still try to hit your spot. But the ball just wasn’t staying on the plate. I was trying to hit the outside corner.”
Jonathan Papelbon took the eighth, as again Williams went to a guy earlier than he would have liked. But, again his options were limited.
Papelbon surrendered the go-ahead run on a solo homer by Kirk Niewenhuis. It pushed the game to 8-7 and gave the Mets the only advantage they would need.
“I made one bad pitch tonight. That’s basically what it boils down to,” Papelbon explained. “That was a tough one, tough pill to swallow.”
“Tonight wasn’t their night,” Williams said of the bullpen. “They just had issues with the strike zone.”
For the second day in a row the Nationals let a victory against the first-place Mets drift out of their reach. Twice they had opportunities to put pressure on the Mets and change the dynamic in the NL East race.
They had the advantage, an opponent right where they wanted them. And again they couldn’t close the deal.
It has become a repetitive story for this team all season and after countless disappointing losses they have pointed towards tomorrow hoping for a better result. With one more game left in this series against the Mets, that’s exactly what they will do once again.
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.
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