WASHINGTON -- As Boston Red Sox players donned red, white and blue outfits to celebrate a 3-0 victory on the 4th of July that completed a sweep, the Washington Nationals held a players-only meeting to discuss a fifth consecutive loss and the precarious spot they're now in beyond the halfway point of the season.
Done in again by small mistakes that get magnified in a stretch such as this, the preseason National League East favorites lost for the 17th time in 22 games Wednesday to fall below .500 for the first time this late in the year since being 60-61 on Aug. 21, 2015.
This time, it was a throwing error by Adam Eaton on a sacrifice fly in foul territory and a wild pitch by Ryan Madson (2-4) in a disastrous seventh inning that dropped the Nationals to 42-43 and kept them from making up ground on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
"We're a good team, and we're going to go out there and compete with anybody," said Bryce Harper, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
"We just have to keep grinding and keep doing our thing and good things will happen. We've never been in this position before, and I think it's an exciting time for us. In years past, we've won the division by a lot of games. We're able to be behind right now and I'm excited to get there and test it."
The meeting was called by a handful of veterans and ace Max Scherzer made a powerful speech that occasionally got loud, the Washington Post reported.
"I think anytime Max holds the meeting or holds court, there's going to be some yelling," Eaton told the paper. "In baseball, you don't have that type of intensity all the time, so it's a little different. I think guys gravitate toward that. I think everybody has a kind of intensity bone in their body, and sometimes things need to be said in that fashion."
The Nationals have lost four series in a row. This freefall led to the postgame meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"I think a lot of guys are approaching it as: This is good for us. We needed to take our lumps now and play some meaningful games," Eaton said. "Hopefully we can scrape and claw and really find out what kind of team we have here."
"We're going to play free. We're going to play loose," reliever Matt Grace said. "And I think we're going to play for each other until we turn it around."
"It's 'Let's get this thing going,'" Nationals infielder Trea Turner said. "We all know we're capable of playing better baseball. It's time we do it. It's do or die now."
Powered by struggling outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s two RBIs on the sac fly and a ninth-inning double and a strong start by Eduardo Rodriguez (10-3), the Red Sox moved 30 games over .500 under rookie manager Alex Cora.
"We know where we're at, but we still have a long ways to go," Cora said. "(The Nationals) have a good team. They'll figure it out. I've seen that before from them. They struggle a little bit and they'll pick it up. They'll be in the hunt."
Bradley, who came into the game hitting .201, worked full counts on each of his at-bats that produced a run. He was hoping the ball Eaton caught deep in foul territory down the third-base line would go out of play so he could see another pitch but will gladly take the RBI -- the second time this season he has had two in a game without a home run.
"Just had to continue to battle and finally get a pitch I could handle," Bradley said. "Any time you can help the team win, it's a positive. It's good, any way you can do it."
Rodriguez struck out six in six scoreless innings, mixing his change-up and slider in more often to keep Nationals hitters off-balance.
The Red Sox now have the first pair of 10-game winners in the majors with Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, whose double off Scherzer helped win them the first game of this series.
Nationals starter Erick Fedde left the game one batter into the second inning with right shoulder stiffness and gave way to left-hander Matt Grace, who allowed just one hit and struck out four in four innings of relief. Manager Davey Martinez said Fedde was scheduled to have an MRI.
"We watched him throw, and his (velocity) was down," Martinez said. "He was out there and wanted to keep pitching. I went out there and they told me he was stiff and I said, 'No, we're not going to do that to you.'"
Red Sox: Manager Alex Cora said LHP Drew Pomeranz (biceps tendinitis) would most likely make a second rehab start early next week. ... RHP Tyler Thornburg was activated from the disabled list after rehabbing from shoulder surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome last June.
Nationals: First baseman Matt Adams was activated after missing 16 games with a broken left index finger. To clear room, LHP Tim Collins was designated for assignment. ... C Matt Wieters (left hamstring strain) is doing some catching, but still hasn't done enough running to be ready to return.
Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 2.63) will look to last at least six innings to spare a heavily used bullpen when Washington faces RHP Pablo Lopez (1-0, 3.00) to open a four-game series against the Miami Marlins.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Fantasy baseball pitcher rankings, lineup advice for Tuesday's MLB games
Everything you need to know to place your MLB bets and set your fantasy baseball lineups for Tuesday, August 16.
Fantasy baseball forecaster: Team hitting ratings
Stay ahead of the game and optimize your fantasy baseball hitters with our forecaster, which provides a rolling 10-day outlook of every team's hitting matchups as well as the potential for stolen bases.
Fantasy baseball forecaster: Pitcher projections for the next 10 days
Keep up to date on who is pitching -- and how well they're expected to do -- with our forecaster, which provides a rolling 10-day outlook of every team's probable starting pitchers with game score projections.
Kiley McDaniel's 2022 midseason top 50 MLB prospects
Who has moved up or down since the draft or the deadline? We rerank baseball's best prospects -- with a new face at No. 1.
Shohei Ohtani turns in another strong start, but Los Angeles Angels lose to Seattle Mariners as chaos reigns in 9th inning
Shohei Ohtani turned in his usual strong start, but things were anything but normal after he departed, as the Mariners scored four runs in a chaotic ninth inning, taking advantage of the Angels' fielding woes for a 6-2 victory on Monday night.
Cleveland Guardians host the Detroit Tigers Tuesday
Detroit Tigers (44-74, fifth in the AL Central) vs. Cleveland Guardians (62-54, first in the AL Central)