GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After beating up on Felix Hernandez on Friday night and then riding Stephen Strasburg's dominating start Saturday night, the Nationals found themselves in a fortuitous position this afternoon, with an opportunity to sweep the Mariners on the road and fully make up for the sweep they suffered in Philadelphia to begin this road trip.
Yet another home-run barrage — Bryce Harper went deep twice and Nate Schierholtz added his first since joining the club — left the crowd at Safeco Field stunned and left the Nationals with another lead. Tanner Roark, though, couldn't hold it, serving up a key, 3-run homer to Dustin Ackley in the bottom of the fifth that put Seattle ahead for the first time all weekend.
Forced to attempt a comeback against one of baseball's best bullpens, the Nationals couldn't mount a late rally. It didn't help when Jerry Blevins and Craig Stammen gave up an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. So the Nats lost to the Mariners for the first time in 12 head-to-head meetings over the last decade, coming up short in their attempt to sweep the middle series of this long road trip.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: If you've been following Harper's summer closely, you might have had a sense a big power breakthrough was looming. The return from a torn thumb ligament has been slow, but progress has come in stages along the way. Over his first 12 games back from the DL, Harper hit only .150 with a .250 slugging percentage. Then over his next 19 games, as he began to get his timing down at the plate again, he started hitting singles and drawing walks, producing a .262 average, .375 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage. Now, it appears Harper not only has his timing down, but is also feeling stronger again, leading to a power surge. With two homers today (the first a monster shot off the restaurant in the second deck at Safeco Field) Harper is now hitting .306 over his last 23 games, with a .565 slugging percentage. For the first time in a long time, he's both healthy and comfortable, and the results are quite impressive.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Roark hasn't been his usual sharp self on several occasions recently, but he has been able to battle his way through those starts and still emerge with quality results. Today, it didn't quite happen. Roark allowed a season-high 11 hits in only 6 1/3 innings, though only one of those hits really proved costly. With two on in the bottom of the fifth, the right-hander left a 2-0 fastball in to Ackley, who proceeded to smash it to right field for a 3-run homer that turned a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit and left Roark in line to suffer the loss.
KEY STAT: The Nationals hit 10 home runs in this series, their most in a 3-game series since 2005.
UP NEXT: The third and final leg of this road trip figures to be the toughest. The Nationals open a 3-game series at Dodger Stadium, beginning at 8:05 p.m. EDT Monday. It'll be Gio Gonzalez facing former Phillies right-hander Roberto Hernandez (aka the former Fausto Carmona).