No matter what happened the previous night, or any other night during this agonizing stretch of baseball, the Nationals reported for work early this morning trying to feel optimistic for a change. They had Matt Adams back on the active roster only 19 days after he fractured his index finger trying to bunt. They had a full house for an 11:05 a.m. game on Independence Day in the nation's capital.
And then, one inning in, optimism was quashed at the sight of another player (starter Erick Fedde) departing with an injury. Only to be doused with even more negative vibes when the same old problems - no hitting, small mistakes, some bad luck thrown in for good measure - led to the same old result.
The Nationals' 3-0 loss to the Red Sox today was their 17th in 22 games (their worst 22-game stretch since they lost 103 games in 2009). They were shut out for the eighth time in their last 30 games; six of those shutout losses have been by scores of 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0.
Oh, and they're also under .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2015 ... the last time they failed to reach the playoffs.
Fedde's injury in the top of the second was the initial cause for concern for the Nationals, but the utter lack of offensive punch and critical mistakes on the mound and in the field were just as troubling by the end of the game.
The lineup managed all of six singles and a walk against Boston's pitching staff, with only one man reaching second base (and that came via an error).
Ryan Madson, meanwhile, allowed the two decisive runs to score in an agonizing top of the seventh that included a pair of hits and a pair of throws that got away from the intended targets. (More on that in a moment.)
Fedde made it through the first inning, seemingly with no problems. He threw 21 pitches, retired three of the four batters he faced, and his fastball topped out at 95 mph. But his four pitches to Rafael Devers to open the top of the second all registered 88 mph or lower, the last one 80 mph.
That prompted pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and director of athletic training Paul Lessard to come check on the right-hander. As the conversation progressed, manager Davey Martinez joined them on the mound. And eventually, without ever attempting to throw a warm-up pitch, Fedde departed, and Matt Grace came jogging in from the bullpen before the clock even read noon.
The Nationals do not provide any injury information in-game, so everyone was left to speculate on what was wrong with Fedde, who threw a career-high 115 pitches in his last start, had Tommy John surgery just before he was drafted in 2014 and was shut down last fall with a forearm strain.
Meanwhile, Grace did everything in his power to not only hold this potent Boston lineup in check, but to do so efficiently enough to eat up innings for a Nats bullpen that was reduced to seven members earlier in the day, when Tim Collins was designated for assignment to clear a spot for Adams.
The left-hander did his job with aplomb, tossing four scoreless frames and needing only 46 pitches to do it. If nothing else, that allowed Martinez to use the back end of his bullpen as he normally would have had Fedde gone five innings as originally hoped.
Trouble is, the Nationals couldn't give their bullpen a lead. They again struggled to give themselves chances to string together hits against Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who tossed six scoreless innings on 84 pitches and allowed only one runner to reach second base.
So the game remained scoreless as Madson took over for the top of the seventh and things started to spiral out of control. A leadoff double by Devers and a subsequent single by Eduardo NuÃ±ez put runners on the corners with nobody out. Then came the critical play: Jackie Bradley Jr.'s popup into shallow left field in foul territory.
Adam Eaton made the long run to get in position to make a sliding catch up against the short fence, but then had to hop to his feet, do a 180-degree turn and try to make a throw to the plate from an odd angle. He nearly got it there in time to get Devers tagging up from third, but the bigger problem was that the ball got past both catcher Pedro Severino and Madson (who was backing him up from only a few feet away). That allowed NuÃ±ez to go all the way to third base as the trailing runner, and that then put him in position to score when Madson bounced a 3-2, two-out changeup to Andrew Benintendi.
Suddenly down 2-0, the Nationals were left to scramble to try to mount a late rally. And as has too often been the case in recent weeks, said rally fell short.
Not that there were many great opportunities. Michael A. Taylor singled with one out in the seventh to offer some hope, but Wilmer Difo struck out looking at a borderline 3-2 curveball. Then - with both Adams and Juan Soto available on the bench but being saved for later - Severino popped up on the first pitch he saw, lowering his batting average to .172.
The Nats brought the tying run to the plate again in the ninth when Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy each singled off Craig Kimbrel. But Taylor struck out and Difo fouled out to the catcher to end the game.