ST. LOUIS -- The way the Nationals lost on Sunday night in Chicago -- on a walk-off grand slam in a game they'd never trailed -- could have been a crushing setback in their attempts to get back into playoff contention. So this four-game series at Busch Stadium against, perhaps, the hottest team in the National League was going to test their resolve.
And Washington responded on Monday. The Nats overcame a first-inning deficit. They rallied back from a bullpen meltdown in the eighth inning to tie the score in the top of the ninth. And yet they still lost, 7-6, when Koda Glover surrendered a walk-off home run to Paul DeJong in the bottom of the ninth, handing them their second straight walk-off loss in crushing fashion.
Had the Nats hung on to win on Monday night, they could have pulled closer to first place in the NL East. Instead they are seven games behind the first-place Braves and eight back in the loss column, placing their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.
"It's tough when you have your closer, your setup guy, your seventh-inning guy all beat up," manager Dave Martinez said. "We just have to keep battling. Those other guys, they have to step up."
With his team ahead by two to start the eighth, Martinez was forced to mix and match to protect the lead. Injuries have put Sean Doolittle and Kelvin Herrera on the disabled list, and Ryan Madson was unavailable after his back injury flared up on Sunday. The Nats are also short on bullpen depth after trading Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley. Once one of the team's biggest strengths -- armed with four pitchers with closing experience less than a month ago -- this bullpen has suddenly become its biggest weakness.
The Nats turned to Sammy Solis to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning, but he surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Carpenter. Solis has struggled this season, with a 5.24 ERA, but he's had an especially tough time against lefties.
"I don't know what else to do," Martinez said. "He's got to get lefties out. I put him up against lefties. I know it's not easy, but that's his job, and he hasn't been able to do that."
"Obviously, it's tough right now," Solis added. "Every miss is being punished."
Even after blowing the lead late, Washington rallied to score twice in the ninth inning against Cardinals closer Bud Norris, with a pair of RBI singles from Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters tying the score. But Glover, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time since returning from a shoulder injury, fell behind, 3-1, to DeJong and challenged him with a fastball that was deposited over the right-field fence.
The Nationals felt like they played well enough to win three games this weekend, but instead dropped two of three. They played well enough to win on Monday and have nothing to show for it.
"After yesterday, they could have come in here and played flat. They didn't. They came in, they battled," Martinez said. "We fell behind, guess what? We battled again to tie the game. I'm proud. These guys all know big moments are coming. They've got to prepare for them. Some guys just got to step up and do the job. These other guys just keep playing the way they're playing."
Bryce Harper matched his home run total from the entire 2017 season with his 29th home run in the fourth inning. Juan Soto continued his stretch of never going more than two games without recording a hit when he connected with his 15th home run of the year.
HE SAID IT
"Just two games where we didn't play 27 outs. We didn't finish the game off, and that's what we have to do." -- Wieters, on the back-to-back losses
"There's no panic. There's none of that. I think that's created from the outside, from the fans. We all believe in each other. We're working hard. Obviously, it's not going our way right now, but I know I'm capable. I know Madson's capable. I know Koda's capable. And they do, too. We all know that. We're all just trying to pull in the same direction and get some results." -- Solis, on the state of the bullpen
Left-hander Giovany Gonzalez will start the second game of a four-game set on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. Gonzalez put together a strong outing in his most recent start, limiting the Braves to one run in seven innings, and the Nats are hopeful that can be a starting point for a turnaround after he struggled mightily the past two months. Right-hander John Gant will start for the Cardinals; first pitch is at 8:15 p.m. ET.