WASHINGTON --What started as a pitcher's duel turned into dual bullpen fiascos for the Nationals and Mets before including the latest entry in the growing lore of Bryce Harper.
The 19-year-old Harper's hustling triple drove home the tying run in the 10th inning and Ryan Zimmerman eventually scored the game-winner on a wild pitch in the same inning as Washington Nationals rallied twice after blowing a ninth-inning lead for a 5-4 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.
"You live for those kinds of games. Playing at a young age, you always dream about playing in a close game like that," said Harper. "You're just trying to battle to the end with all your guys and that's what our team does."
This specific game zipped along over the first eight innings before the final two took nearly as long to complete. Both teams lost leads in the ninth inning and traded advantages in the final frame as the running time crawled past the three-hour mark. For those from the crowd 26,342 that stuck around, Harper and his teammates made it worth the wait.
Owners of the best record in the National league, the Nationals (52-36) have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games. They also have defeated their division rival in five of seven games this season.
The Mets (46-44) have lost a season-high five straight games and fell seven games behind the NL East leaders.
"There's some guys that are really upset in the other room, and they should be," Mets manager Terry Collins said after dropping the first of a three-game series. "It's time to reach down inside and pull out whatever you've got left and make something out of the remainder of this trip."
Mets pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin tried doing just that, swatting a three-run homer in the ninth off Nationals closer Tyler Clippard, turning a two-run deficit into a 3-2 lead.
Danny Espinosa bailed out Clippard with a two-out single in the bottom of the inning for Washington, tying the score.
Daniel Murphy led off the Mets' 10th with an infield single and two outs later came home from second base on Josh Thole's double off Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus.
That set up the final drama. Harper's hit to right-center off Tim Byrdak (2-1), described as a "rocket" by Nationals manager Davey Johnson, drove home Jhonatan Solano.
The first-time All-Star was not simply content with tying the game.
"I got a pitch I could handle and I was thinking three out of the box," said Harper, who finished 2-for-5. "I wasn't going to stop."
After loading the bases with a pair of intentional walks, the Mets forced Harper out at home. Pedro Beato replaced Byrdak (2-1) to face Tyler Moore, who earlier homered in the fifth inning with what for a time looked like the game-winning run. Beato uncorked a wild one past Thole, scoring Zimmerman from third.
"I've got to block it. That's the bottom line," Thole said. "I was ready to block it. I just didn't get it done."
Mattheus (3-1) pitched one-third of an inning for the win.
Thole and David Wright opened the ninth with consecutive singles against Clippard. After striking out Scott Hairston, Clippard allowed the three-run home run to Valdespin, the ball landing just over the wall in right-center.
The Nationals struck back in the bottom of the frame as reliever Bobby Parnell allowed three hits, including Espinosa's two-out single to center, driving home pinch runner Ian Desmond with the tying run.
In line for his first win since May 3 before the crazy ninth inning, Nationals' starter Ross Detwiler pitched seven shutout innings with five hits allowed and four strikeouts, outdueling fellow left-hander Jonathon Niese. Neither pitcher issuing a walk factored into the game's initial brisk pace. The nine relievers that followed had the opposite effect.
Niese struck out eight and allowed only three hits over seven innings, including Moore's fifth home run of the season that gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Steve Lombardozzi's RBI double off Mets reliever Josh Edgin in the eighth put Washington ahead 2-0.
New York had three singles against Detwiler in the second. However, Jason Bay, playing his first game since June 15, hit into a double play, and Mike Nickeas' infield grounder with two on ended the threat.
Wright's scorched drive to right in the fourth inning landed in the glove of a leaping Michael Morse, who crashed into the wall but held on.
In retrospect, that play symbolized the Nationals night; they almost crashed and burned, but eventually held on.
"That's what first place teams do. They find a way to win whenever possible," Detwiler said.
Notes: Bay, activated from the 15-day disabled list before Tuesday's game, started in left field and hit fifth. To make room for Bay, the Mets designated Omar Quintanilla for assignment. In 29 games the infielder batted .257... Tuesday's game opened a seven-game, six-day homestand for the Nationals against their nearest competitors in the NL East... After playing three against New York, Washington hosts second-place Atlanta...Lucas Giolito, the Nationals' No.1 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, visited Nationals Park for the first time since signing a contract with the team on Friday. The 18-year-old from Southern California was the 16th overall selection.
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