After Tanner Roark jogged from the bullpen, the third inning only grew uglier. Roark walked Quintanilla to load the bases for Wheeler. He threw the opposing pitcher three consecutive balls, and after he came back with two strikes, he walked in a run. Young poked a single to left to score one more run.
“Everything that could go wrong in that second or third inning did,” Johnson said.
The Mets led 8-0, and the only question left to answer was how Harper would respond to the mini-controversy caused by his jogging to first base Friday night. He answered in the eighth, when he led off with a screaming liner into the right field corner.
As he raced around second base, Harper’s helmet flew off his head. Right fielder Juan Lagares rifled a throw to second baseman Daniel Murphy. He fired a one-hop throw into third base. Harper dove head first, dirt flying in his face, but the perfect relay beat him by inches. As Harper dusted himself off and walked off the field, the crowd showered him with a standing ovation.
Johnson had a different reaction. He felt Harper had allowed the chatter about his hustle to affect him and make an unwise baseball decision.
“He needs to quit listening to all this stuff,” Johnson said. “He’s a good baseball player. He’s got great baseball instincts, but sometimes he gets overwhelmed with all the stuff going on. He’s still young in that regard. Gets caught up in playing the game. Still learning.”
In the ninth inning, fans roared as the wave traveled around the stadium. The Nationals knew their pursuit of a playoff spot could not be perfect, that they could not win every game left on their schedule, no matter how easy. But the losses did not have to double as nightmares.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares, dropping a series to the Mets,” Johnson said. “But we just need to turn it around, starting tomorrow. Just almost sweep out. That’s what we’ve got to do.”