Bryce Harper was at the plate in the eighth inning with men on first and second and two outs in a one-run game.
Jayson Werth, one of the hottest hitters in the majors for more than a month, was on deck.
Nevertheless, Harper swung at an inside 3-0 pitch from Scott Rice and fouled it off. He swung again at 3-1 — "probably ball four," he called it — and hit a grounder to second, where Daniel Murphy bobbled the ball but could take his time recovering because Harper wasn’t hustling to first.
Not a good sequence for the 20-year-old slugger Friday night in the Washington Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the New York Mets.
Bench coach Randy Knorr, in charge for most of the game after manager Davey Johnson left the dugout due to illness, didn’t fault himself for giving Harper the 3-0 green light — and he’s fine with Harper swinging at the pitch — but he wasn’t happy to see the youngster jogging to first on the grounder.
"The thing about Bryce right now, it’s tough. He gets frustrated. I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s going to have to start picking it up a little bit because we’ve got everybody else doing it," Knorr said. "And he gets frustrated at times and it just comes out in him.
"It’s something that we’ve got to fix. … He’s got a lot going on. It’s hard for me to say; I’m not 20 years old in the big leagues with stuff going on around me. It’s something we’ve got to get to the bottom of, and keep talking to him because eventually we’re just going to have to take him out of the game."
Asked what happened on the play, Harper said: "I have no clue. Groundout to Murphy, he’s pretty good over there, so in that situation I think he makes that play every single day."
Told what Knorr said about the play, Harper replied: "I’ll guess I learn from it."
Shortstop Ian Desmond put the episode in context, noting that the Nationals need to make every little play they can if they’re going to consider themselves in a playoff race.
"I know that when you got 3-0 and he let it go, I know that takes a lot of guts," Desmond said. "And in that situation, lefty-lefty, those same guts are going to be what makes us give this final push in this last month. It takes a lot of courage to let it fly right there, and I commend him for that.
"As far as the baserunning goes, it takes guts also to run out the ones you think are going to be outs. He does it 95, 99, whatever it is, almost 100 percent of the time, and I think this one might have just got pointed out because the guy made a bobble or whatever. But he’s 20 years old, and I think still dealing with some emotions of the game, and it’s hard to remember at lot of the time that he is 20. What most of us were doing when we were 20 years old wasn’t this."
Another little play cost the Nationals the run that ultimately decided the game. The Mets were leading 2-1 in the top of the eighth with Murphy on second base after a two-out double when Andrew Brown hit a smash down the line.
Murphy took off running and kept going. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made the stop, but he unwisely uncorked a no-hope throw to first on the run. Adam LaRoche couldn’t field the short hop, allowing Murphy to score easily while Brown got credit for a single and an RBI.
In hindsight, Zimmerman should’ve eaten the ball.
"In his mind, he’s trying to get the out," Knorr said. "I bet he’s thinking right now that maybe I should’ve done it that way, but he’s made great plays so you can’t fault him for that."
Dillon Gee (10-9) mastered the Nationals the way he always does, allowing six hits and two solo home runs over 7 2-3 innings and outdueling Jordan Zimmermann (15-8) as the Mets won for only the third time in nine games. Gee is 7-2 lifetime against Washington.
The Nationals, who began the day 6½ games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the NL’s second wild-card spot, lost for just the second time in 10 games.
Gee faced three batters above the minimum through seven innings. The only scoreboard damage came on Wilson Ramos’ homer to lead off the third and pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi’s two-out solo shot in the eighth.
Zimmermann, who remains tied with Adam Wainwright for the NL lead in wins, allowed three runs and six hits over 7 2-3 innings. He didn’t allow a hit until Murphy’s single to lead off the fourth, but that was followed two batters later by Ike Davis’ opposite-field home run.
Notes: Knorr said Johnson left the dugout sometime around the fourth inning. "He’s fine. I think he’s coming down with something," Knorr said. "He got a little light-headed, so he just went back upstairs. I think he might be catching a cold or something." … Nationals CF Denard Span stretched his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games, while Harper’s 11-game hitting streak came to an end.