KANSAS CITY - They did everything right yet again, getting power and clutch hits from their lineup, a quality start from their hurler and effective work from their setup men.
Papelbon blew a two-run lead, giving up four singles and then Lorenzo Cain's game-winning drive past a diving Michael A. Taylor in left-center, turning a 6-4 lead into a 7-6, walk-off loss before an ecstatic crowd of 33,729 at Kauffman Stadium.
As they've done so many times during their remarkable run over the last two seasons, the Royals won not with big blasts but with sustained and relentless offense. They didn't record one extra-base hit in this game yet scored seven runs, four in the final two innings alone. Pinch-hitter Mike Moustakas' two-run single up the middle brought the tying runs home. A few moments later, Cain drove Papelbon's final pitch deep to left-center, just past Taylor's diving attempt to win the game.
The Nationals had been in position to beat Kansas City for the second straight night and improve to 5-0 on this daunting road trip. With home runs from Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth and some clutch hits from the bottom of their lineup, they took a 6-4 lead into the ninth.
They did this even with Bryce Harper looking completely lost. With another fruitless night at the plate that included three strikeouts, the 23-year-old star now has just one hit in his last 23 at-bats.
Somehow, the Nationals have managed not only to get by without Harper's production but actually to thrive. It began tonight with two early solo homers, including Rendon's first of the year and then Murphy's 416-foot shot to right that nearly landed in the famed Kauffman Stadium fountains.
The key rally, though, came via a series of clutch hit in the top of the sixth, after the Royals had taken the lead. Wilson Ramos' ground-rule double that got right fielder Jarrod Dyson all twisted up brought home the tying run. Danny Espinosa's RBI groundout brought home the go-ahead run, and then Chris Heisey's triple off the wall completed the rally.
Werth's towering homer to left-center in the top of the eighth added another insurance run that provided Tanner Roark some cushion.
Though he hit one bump in the road during a three-run bottom of the third, Roark otherwise was in peak form again tonight, recording outs in rapid fire and inducing weak contact from Kansas City's lineup. With his pitch count low, the right-hander was afforded the opportunity to re-take the mound for the bottom of the eighth.
Roark couldn't complete that final frame, but Felipe Rivero picked him up by recording a couple of groundball outs before handing the ball to Papelbon for the ninth.