WASHINGTON -- They are what we thought they were. The Washington Nationals' see-it-to-believe-it, come-from-way-behind-way-late, 11-10 win over the New York Mets wasn't a swing game. It didn't transform the pennant race. It didn't alter the fate of the free world as we know it. It didn't reverse the destiny of an entire organization. What it did do, however, was serve as an affirmation that a pair of NL East rivals are pretty much what we thought they were.
Let's start with New York, which entered Tuesday's game in D.C. with little to no hope of playing beyond September. Despite a white-hot stretch in which the Amazin's resurrected the ghost of their 2015 forefathers by winning 21 of 26 to become wild-card contenders, they've come crashing back to earth recently. By the time the extended Labor Day weekend officially concluded, the Mets had just a 7.5% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. Although they weren't technically toast, they certainly seemed toast-ish. After Tuesday's miraculous meltdown, it could very well be time to bust out the knife and butter.
"When I came in here, I didn't really know what just happened," center fielder Brandon Nimmo said from the visiting clubhouse after his team scored four runs in the top of the ninth to extend its lead to 10-4 but then blew it by allowing a seven-spot in the bottom half, the last three runs coming courtesy of Kurt Suzuki's walk-off, three-run bomb against closer Edwin Diaz. "It kind of just seemed like a bad dream. That's hard to do even in a Little League game, I feel like, to come back from seven runs down in the bottom of the ninth against guys throwing 99 mph. I don't really have words for that."
Forget about words: There are barely numbers for that. Through Monday's games, home teams were 0-274 when trailing by six-plus runs entering the bottom of the ninth inning. The past five years, MLB teams were 4-1,321. Washington was 0-63 in the past decade.
In other words, the odds of the Nats doing what they did on Tuesday were roughly equivalent to the odds of Satan needing to use the defroster in his Satanmobile. Then again, these are the 2019 Mets we're talking about.
For all the goodness that has emanated from Queens this season, there has been plenty of badness. Despite Pete Alonso's epic rookie season and Jeff McNeil's solidifying his status as one of the game's best all-around hitters and J.D. Davis' becoming a cult hero and Jacob deGrom's making a serious run at a second consecutive Cy Young award, it has been hard to not focus on the things that haven't gone well. From rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen tossing chairs during a meeting with coaches to pitcher Jason Vargas getting into a shouting match with a reporter, there has been plenty of weirdness.
But perhaps the most dysfunctional thing about the Mets this season has been the bullpen. Following the surprising offseason acquisition of Diaz, a dominant closer who was an All-Star in 2018, New York's relief corps was expected to be better. Instead, it has been one of the worst in the league. Including the latest fiasco, the Mets' pen has a 5.15 ERA, fourth-highest in the majors. Mets relievers have now blown 25 saves and are in danger of breaking the franchise's single-season record (29). Still, nobody could have predicted what went down in the District on Tuesday -- except maybe the home team.
"The boys fought. What can I say about these guys, honestly?" said manager Davey Martinez, whose club began the day having scored more ninth-inning runs than any other team in baseball, then went out and added to that cushion. "All year long, they've been down, down, down, and they come right back."
Clearly, Martinez was talking on a micro level about Washington's propensity for erasing in-game deficits. But it applies on a macro level: Back on May 24, the Nationals were 19-31 and looked like they were finished. Thanks to a 59-28 record since then (best in the majors), they're now at the top of the wild-card race and have a 99% chance of making the playoffs.
"Think positive, that's all I can tell you," said Martinez, who could barely conduct his postgame news conference because fans in the VIP club at Nats Park, which shares a glass wall with the media room, kept interrupting him with raucous cheers. It's a dynamic that hardly anyone could have imagined four months ago, when local talk radio was filled with callers demanding Martinez's job.
"If you let this game go like this, it's not going to be good," Washington's skipper said, making a roller-coaster gesture with his hand, which then turned into a flat line. "Just stay right here, and we'll be fine."
That isn't to say the Nationals don't have issues. The only reason they were in a big hole entering the bottom of the ninth was because their bullpen, which has been the worst in the NL all season, allowed five runs in the top half to turn a one-run game into what looked like a laugher.
It wasn't all the relievers' fault, though: With one out and a man on first, shortstop Trea Turner fielded a double-play grounder but threw to first because he thought there were two down -- the kind of "little things" mistake that was the norm for the Nats earlier in the season.
A couple hours before that, Max Scherzer -- Washington's ace and would-be wild-card starter -- got pummeled during a four-run fourth inning that suggested he has a ways to go before he's back to his usual Cy Young self.
"Obviously, there's things I can sharpen up," Scherzer said. "An outing like today, as much as you want to beat yourself up for it, was a step forward."
Of course, it's a whole lot easier to avoid self-flagellation when your teammates pick you up -- when they do the unthinkable and come from way behind way late in see-it-to-believe-it fashion.
"We've just got great chemistry," Scherzer said. "Got great mojo. We've really gelled together, watching this team come together and just playing good baseball. We have fun together, we all pull for each other, and it's a real treat to come to the park and compete with these guys. We've got a real good team."
In other words, the Nationals are who we thought they were.