WASHINGTON -- Short of swapping his sneakers out for cleats and grabbing a glove, there was nothing Nationals manager Matt Williams could do on Tuesday night to stop the debacle before him. Nearly every move he made backfired, and the Nationals lost a six-run seventh-inning lead and fell to New York, 8-7, in a game Washington could not afford to lose.
His first tactical move ended starter Jordan Zimmermann's night in the sixth inning, and it panned out. Every maneuver didn't work out, though, and the deficit in the National League East climbed to a mountainous six games.
"They had issues with the strike zone tonight," Williams said of his relievers. "There's good times and there's bad times. In the bad times, you need support and that's part of my job. I've got confidence in every one of those guys in that room. Tonight wasn't their night, but I've got confidence in them."
Zimmermann had been effective through five innings, but he hadn't been efficient. At 100 pitches, he was pulled for lefty reliever Matt Thornton with two outs and left-handed-hitting Daniel Murphy at the plate serving as the game's tying run.
Murphy, who entered Tuesday 20-for-59 (.339) with five doubles and four home runs off Zimmermann, flew out to center to end the inning.
"I think that was the right move taking me out in that situation," Zimmermann said. "Thorny came in, got him out. Everyone knows his numbers against me lifetime. They're pretty good … I'm fine with that move."
A big error by the Mets in the bottom of the sixth aided the Nationals to a four-run frame, and they held what seemed like a safe 7-1 lead heading into the 7th inning.
Blake Treinen started the seventh for the Nats and allowed a leadoff single, but he retired the next two batters. At that point, Washington's win probability was 99.2 percent, according to FanGraphs.
Then trouble came, and nothing anyone in a home jersey did could stop it. A walk and a single made it 7-2 and Felipe Rivero's turn to pitch. Rivero faced two batters and walked them both. 7-3.
Then it was time for Drew Storen against Mets folk-hero Yoenis Cespedes with the bases loaded. Tuesday night was Storen's 57th appearance and the first in the seventh inning.
Cespedes ripped a 1-0 double into the left-field corner, clearing the bases and cutting the lead to one. Storen proceeded to miss the strike zone on 12 of his next 15 pitches, allowing three consecutive walks as the Mets came all the way back to tie the game.
"It's a fine line, not trying to give in there," Storen said. "You gotta still try to hit your spot. But the ball just wasn't staying on the plate. I was trying to hit the outside corner."
In the eighth, with few contributing arms left in the bullpen, Williams called for closer Jonathan Papelbon, with hopes that he would work the final two innings. Papelbon recorded the first two outs with ease, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis capped the Mets' comeback with a pinch-hit home run into the right-center-field seats.
"I've been beat many a times in my career, and I've won many a times," Papelbon said. "It boils down to one pitch. It basically does. ... I made one bad pitch."
Over the past two days, Washington's relievers made 10 appearances. Nine of them allowed at least one baserunner and seven of them allowed at least one run.
"To the outside observer it's like, man, what have we got ourselves into?" Papelbon said of the uphill climb facing the Nationals. "For me personally, and I think I can speak for most of the guys in this clubhouse, we have to accept the challenge. Take it on and almost enjoy it and say, 'Hey. This is the spot we're in, and let's do everything we can to get out of it.'"
Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.