Game in a nutshell: What should have been a fantastic pitchers' duel between two of the NL's best (Jordan Zimmermann and Kyle Lohse) instead turned into a wild slugfest filled with twists and turns. The Nationals stormed out to a 6-2 lead after two innings, but then Zimmermann gave all the runs back and more, putting the Cardinals up 8-6 after four. A three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth put the Nationals back on top, 9-8. But then Sean Burnett coughed up the lead in the eighth and left this a tie game. Drew Storen recorded a huge out to end that inning and was given a chance to return for the ninth. But a leadoff single to Allen Craig and then the inability to prevent Craig from stealing second cost the Nationals. David Freese's RBI single scored Craig, and when the Nats went down in the bottom of the ninth, they were handed a frustrating, 10-9 loss. On the bright side, the Braves lost again to the Phillies, so the lead in the NL East remains 6 12 games, with the magic number down to 24.
Hitting highlight: They stormed out the gates with six early runs, then were silenced and saw their lead disappear. But a sixth-inning rally got the Nationals back on top, with contributions from several players. Danny Espinosa got things started with his 15th homer of the season. Jayson Werth then kept things going with a two-out double to right. That forced Cardinals manager Mike Matheny into summoning lefty Mark Rzepczynski to face Bryce Harper. The rookie did his job, drawing a walk, and that forced Matheny to turn to Fernando Salas to face Ryan Zimmerman. Zim responded with a base hit to left, bringing home the tying run. Then he appeared to purposely get caught in a rundown, stalling things just long enough for Harper to come around and score the go-ahead run. A crazy finish to a big inning for the Nationals.
Pitching lowlight: What's going on with Zimmermann? It's a real question for the Nationals right now, because the right-hander hasn't looked right for a while now. He was ambushed for a career-high eight runs in only 3 23 innings today, serving up two towering homers and losing his location during a laborious fourth inning he couldn't even finish. If this was just one blip on the radar, it wouldn't be cause for concern. But this has become a disturbing trend. After posting a 2.28 ERA over his first 21 starts this season, Zimmermann's ERA over his last six outings is now 6.16. Is there a problem with his shoulder? His velocity has been strong throughout this stretch. Whatever the reason, the Nationals have to hope their presumed playoff ace can figure things out, stat.
Key stat: The Nationals are the only MLB team to post a winning record in each of the season's first five months: April (14-8), May (15-13), June (15-10), July (17-9), August (19-10).
Up next: The series concludes with Stephen Strasburg on the mound for one of his final starts of the season. Veteran Jake Westbrook gets the nod for the Cardinals in the 1:35 p.m. contest.
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history.
Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him.
During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.
In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons.
Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store
Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract.
On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.
Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop.
It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series.
Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster.
Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.
The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda.
There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.
MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others