The Nationals can't say they didn't keep giving themselves opportunities to beat the Mets tonight and avoid a disheartening, early-season, three-game sweep at the hands of their division rivals.
All the opportunities in the world, though, mean nothing if you can't deliver in those situations. Or, at the very least, not commit baserunning blunders every 15 minutes or so.
So it was that the Nats went down again tonight, this time in an agonizing, 6-5, 12-inning loss on a cold, dreary Sunday night that stretched into Monday morning. In losing their third straight to the first-place Mets, they dropped their fifth straight overall and now at 4-5 own a losing record for the first time since Aug. 21, 2015 (two managers ago).
The winning run was plated off Brandon Kintzler, who was scored upon in all three games of this series, tagged with the loss in each of the last two. After intentionally walking Michael Conforto with one out in the top of the 12th, the struggling reliever surrendered a looping single over the shortstop's head to Yoenis CÃ©spedes, the go-ahead run scoring from second in the process.
Not that it ever should've reached that juncture. The Nationals gave themselves opportunities at the plate all night, including two big ones late in what was a tie game. With two outs and Anthony Rendon on first base in the eighth, Bryce Harper came to the plate and found himself facing Mets reliever Jerry Blevins in a lefty-on-lefty matchup that figures to repeat itself over and over this season. Rendon, though, inexplicably took off for second base too early and was picked off, leaving Harper standing at the plate with the bat in his hands and no chance to swing it.
On the bright side, Harper did get another chance to bat leading off the ninth, this time against right-hander Seth Lugo. But the Mets decided to pitch around the slugger and put him on base for the fifth time in the game. Lugo then misfired on a pickoff attempt, with Harper able to take second base and probably take third as well had he not prematurely put on the brakes.
That proved costly when Matt Adams lined out to deep center field, a drive that allowed Harper to advance to third but would've allowed him to score the winning run had he already been on third in the first place. The Nats still had a golden opportunity when both Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner were intentionally walked to load the bases with one out, but Michael A. Taylor and Pedro Severino each struck out on three pitches to kill that rally and send this game to extra innings.
Sammy SolÃs did his part to keep giving his teammates a chance, striking out five of the six batters he faced during a scoreless 10th and 11th. But Kintzler couldn't keep the string of bullpen zeroes going.
Tanner Roark's start provided a strange dichotomy: He was brilliant when pitching with zero or one out (the Mets went 0-for-10 with six strikeouts), but he couldn't finish innings off once he got two outs (5-for-10 with four walks and two homers).
It all came to a head in the top of the third, when Roark issued three consecutive two-out walks, earning a mound visit from Derek Lilliquist. One 89-mph fastball to AdriÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez later, the Mets had four runs on the board and Roark had boos raining down upon him.
Then it happened again in the fifth. After striking out Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier to begin the inning, Roark served up a solo homer to AsdrÃºbal Cabrera, leaving the right-hander with five earned runs attached to his name over a ragged, five-inning start.
The Nationals' offensive output against Matt Harvey was spread out a bit more, though it included a big blast of its own. After Rendon delivered a one-out single in the bottom of the first, Harper sent a 93-mph fastball deep into the right field bullpen, further evidence that he has finally solved his toughest nemesis in the big leagues.
Harper had been 0-for-21 against Harvey to begin his career. But that long bomb (along with singles his next two times up) leaves Harper 5 for his last 11 with two homers against the Dark Knight of Gotham.
The Nationals put together no shortage of quality at-bats vs. Harvey, and they kept giving themselves opportunities all night, delivering a few times to keep the game within reach. Severino's two-out RBI double in the fourth was merely the latest in a recent string of big hits by the young catcher. One inning later, Turner came through with a two-out single to left, bringing the deficit to one run.
After a pair of scoreless frames from relievers Shawn Kelley and Matt Grace, the Nationals put themselves in position to tie the game in the seventh against the Mets bullpen. And Taylor came through with a much-needed clutch hit, driving a 3-2, two-out pitch from Robert Gsellman through the left side of the infield. Turner scored, the game was tied and it was now just a matter of which team could finish this one off.