Nats can't overcome Gore's rare blowup start, lose to Mets (updated)

Though he hasn’t been lights-out every time he has pitched this season, MacKenzie Gore had shown significant progress from last season in one key area: The ability to avoid letting a shaky start go completely awry.

That streak ended tonight with easily the left-hander’s worst outing of the year. Unable to consistently locate any of his pitches, the young Nationals starter couldn’t take advantage of some rare healthy run support from his teammates and ultimately was the pitcher of record in an 8-7 loss to the Mets that saw the home team come up just short with a last-ditch attempted rally in the ninth.

"A lot of fight with our team and in our clubhouse. We always feel like we're in it," said Jesse Winker, who had three hits and drove in three runs. "We almost got the job done."

This game didn’t resemble any of Gore’s previous 11 starts, nor did it resemble many of the Nats’ previous 58 games. They had been 19-7 this season when scoring at least four runs, 19-5 when scoring at least five runs.

That wasn’t enough offense tonight, not with Gore laboring throughout his outing.

On the heels of the first 10-strikeout, zero-walk game of his burgeoning career, Gore took the mound looking to keep it going against another division rival. It was clear early on he wasn’t the same pitcher against the Mets as he was against the Braves. He issued an eight-pitch walk of Francisco Lindor to get the night started, and so the pattern went, with New York’s leadoff man reaching base in each of the first four innings.

Gore managed to minimize the damage to a point, but then the bottom fell out from under him. He gave up two runs in the fourth, including a solo homer by Mark Vientos into the left field bullpen. And when he loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, his night was over after 92 pitches.

"It didn't look like he was in sync," manager Davey Martinez said. "It looked like his slider was short. Man, they fouled a lot of pitches off. Four-and-a-third innings with 92 pitches, that's a lot. We had to get him out of there."

Dylan Floro entered to try to escape that jam. The veteran reliever proceeded to allow not only all three inherited runners to score, but one more of his own doing, turning a 4-3 lead into a 7-4 deficit. As a result, Gore was charged with six earned runs, the first time he was charged with more than three in any start this season.

"I just didn't execute," he said. "It was just not good. I didn't execute well, really, throughout the outing. I wasn't able to make pitches when I needed to, to get out of traffic. As frustrating as it is, the sun's going to come up tomorrow, and we'll get another one in five days. But this one's pretty frustrating."

The Nationals, though, were still in the game, thanks a string of their own rallies against Mets starter Tylor Megill, who barely survived his five innings.

The key sequence came in the bottom of the fourth, beginning with a hustle play and an overturned call. With runners on first and third and one out, Ildemaro Vargas grounded to first and realized he was going to have to bust down the line to avoid an inning-ending double play. As he approached the bag, he opted to dive headfirst instead of running straight through. Ryan Wills initially ruled him out, but the call was overturned on the Nats’ challenge, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue.

That proved especially helpful to the Nationals when Joey Gallo followed with a no-doubt, two-run homer to right, his fifth of the year and his first score-flipping blast.

There were more opportunities for the Nats to make up the deficit in the middle innings, but they scored just once (on a bases-loaded walk issued by Megill), stranding the bases loaded in the fifth and stranded two runners in the sixth.

And even though the Mets bullpen has lost six games when leading after eight innings since May 1 – three times as many blown leads as any other team in the majors – the Nationals didn’t have a late rally in them. They stranded two more runners on base in the eighth.

"We had a couple opportunities," Martinez said. "Just fell a little short. I thought we hit the ball really well. Lined out a few times. Overall, I thought our at-bats were good today."

Good, but not quite good enough. Though they pushed across two runs in the ninth, the Nationals needed one more and couldn't get it against New York's makeshift bullpen. Lefty Jake Diekman entered with the bases loaded and one out and got Joey Meneses (pinch-hitting for Gallo) to send a deep drive to center for a sacrifice fly and the inning's second out. He then got rookie Drew Millas to look at a fastball over the plate for strike three to end the game.

"I felt really good at the plate," said Millas, making his first start behind the plate after his promotion from Triple-A Rochester on Sunday. "I was confident, seeing the ball well. Got a chance to see a good lefty reliever in the league and just didn't get it done. No excuses. I've got to get it done next time."

More on Monday night's eventful loss
Abrams, Young out of lineup again, but no IL moves...

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