They were down four runs already to their chief division rivals, their starting pitcher getting rocked and an imposing flamethrower on the mound for the opposition who had pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the first.
Given the way things had been going for the Nationals over the last week or so, you could forgive them if they were a bit demoralized at this particular moment, trailing Noah Syndergaard and the Mets in uninspired fashion. To listen to them describe it afterward, though, that simply wasn't the case.
"The mood in the dugout was: 'Hey man, we're gonna get some more. We're going to get some more opportunities,' " manager Dusty Baker said. "You can't cry about something that's happened already, especially in the first inning. Even though you know, and we all knew, that first inning with Syndergaard could've been the ballgame. You try to put it behind you, you go out there and remain aggressive and remain positive."
Three hours later, the Nationals were as upbeat as they've been all season, having somehow flipped that early 4-0 deficit into an 11-4 trouncing of the Mets that left the opposition (instead of the home team) thoroughly demoralized.
With a stunning flourish, a Nats lineup that looked for a week like it simply didn't know how to produce a hit with a man in scoring position suddenly got everything out of its system in one fell swoop. During a three-inning stretch tonight, they went 7-for-12 with runners in scoring position, matching their entire hit total from the previous five games (in 30 fewer at-bats).
"Down four runs, a bunch of people would think you're out of it," said Ben Revere, who enjoyed one of the best nights of his career, going 4-for-5 with three runs and three stolen bases. "But we've got a lot of heart. ... This was real big. Being down and coming back like that and scoring all those runs, everybody was really pumped up."
The contributions came from the entire lineup. All nine members of the starting lineup (including pitcher Joe Ross) recorded at least one hit. Seven of them scored at least one run. Six of them drove in at least one run.
And then there were the six bases stolen by Nationals runners, matching a club record and matching the season-high by any major league club so far in 2016.
Put that all together, and you get an 11-run, 17-hit explosion on a night when not one ball cleared the fence, a brilliant display of small ball from a team that too often seems to rely on the home run.
"I mean, you look at what the Royals did last year. They're world champions and that's all they did," Revere said. "Especially when I was with the Blue Jays, they just killed us with single, single, single. You definitely need good pitching, but it's not all about the home runs. There aren't that many teams who drop bombs, really, when it comes to playoff time. You've gotta do the key situations and get a runner over, or a sac fly, or a little blooper base hit. That still counts."
It also helps when your starting pitcher brushes aside some early struggles and turns his night around, giving your lineup a chance to rally in that fashion. Ross' final pitching line - four runs, 10 hits in six innings - won't turn any heads in the box score, but his performance was invaluable for the Nationals on this night.
After putting his team in a 4-0 hole via a string of well-struck balls by the New York lineup, the young right-hander managed to right his ship, thanks in part to a rare mound visit from his manager that did not end with the handing over of the baseball.
Baker made the long walk to the mound in the top of the third, causing momentary panic from Ross.
"At first, I was kind of like: 'Well, I don't think anyone's in the bullpen,' " the right-hander said. " 'Hopefully I'm not done yet.' "
He wasn't. Baker simply wanted to convey a message to his pitcher.
"I just told him: 'Hold the game where it is right there, and give us a chance to come back,' " the manager recalled.
"He came out there, had the confidence in me, let me keep going, work my way through it, and it worked pretty well," Ross said.
It sure did. Ross proceeded to retire the next nine batters he faced, ultimately completing six innings and putting himself in position to earn the win.
That was simply one more example of what it took for the Nationals to turn what was shaping up to be an especially disconcerting loss into a wholly uplifting victory.
"You just have to battle," right fielder Bryce Harper said. "I keep saying it every day: When we're down, we're not really down. We've got a great team, and the way we've been playing lately, I think we've been swinging the bat well, taking good at-bats. And we finally put it together tonight and really had a great approach and got it going."
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