It could've ended in embarrassment.
The Nats fell apart Thursday, allowing four runs in the ninth against the Pirates and setting themselves up to get swept in a four-game series for the first time in four years.
But Bryce Harper saved them. His youthful, fearless swing in the bottom of the ninth carried the ball deep to left-center field and over the wall to give the Nationals a 9-7 win. It was his first career walk-off homer, and it might have saved Washington's season.
Now the 49-53 Nationals stay home to host the 45-53 Mets in a four-game series over three days this weekend, starting with a day-night doubleheader on Friday. While the Mets have waddled below .500 for much of the season, their minus-27 run differential is slightly better than the Nationals' minus-29.
With expectations minimal, it appears the Mets have the Nationals up against the wall.
"I think when things get tough, your true colors really come out," said Stephen Strasburg, who took the loss Wednesday despite throwing eight innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits while fanning 12. "It's all about what type of person you are. Are you the type that's going to sit there and look in the mirror and do everything you can to be better out there? Or are you going to start pointing fingers?
"I don't think there's a single guy in the clubhouse who's going to start pointing fingers. Every single guy in here is responsible, and we all want to win just as bad as any other team out there."
The Nationals' nine-run outburst Thursday was a highlight during a 14-game stretch in which they've scored 41 total runs (2.9 runs per game).
"We're trying to battle, we're just trying to get things going right now," said center fielder Denard Span, who has a .319 on-base percentage this season. "It may not look like it on TV or when you guys are watching us, but everybody's giving it the best [effort] they can."
For Game 1 on Friday, Jordan Zimmermann will take the mound after throwing the shortest start of his career on Sunday, lasting two innings in his first start since sitting out the All-Star Game with neck stiffness, which he believes has gone away.
"Some games, you get away with a few mistakes, and some games, whatever you throw up there is getting hit hard," Zimmermann said.
Jenrry Mejia will make his 2013 debut on the hill for Game 1. Pitching with bone spurs in his elbow, according to ESPNNewYork.com, Mejia will need offseason surgery, but he still feels comfortable going up to 110 pitches.
"I'm still happy because I believe in myself," Mejia said. "If I don't believe in myself, who's going to believe me?"
Ross Ohlendorf gets the spot start in Game 2, matching up against Matt Harvey, who was about as dominant as he's been all season in seven shutout innings of the Phillies his last time out. Harvey's stats continue to impress: 8-2, 157 strikeouts in 137 innings, 2.23 ERA.
Nationals: Werth his salt
Jayson Werth has five homers in his last five games. He has 11 homers and 31 RBIs since returning from the 15-day disabled list on June 4.
"He has made some adjustments," manager Davey Johnson said. "... His approach has been pretty good all year. I think the main thing with him, it feels like his left wrist is healthy. He has been impressive in [batting practice]. He is in a good spot."
Mets: Young suffering from dramatic play
A catalyst at the top of the order since coming over from the Rockies, Eric Young Jr. left Thursday's 7-4 win over the Braves with right knee pain.
Young had already injured his leg during a horrific collision with Braves pitcher Tim Hudson on Wednesday, when Young stepped on the back of Hudson's right leg when aiming for first base with the contact fracturing Hudson's ankle on the spot.
Young was visibly shaken up and stood by Hudson's side until he was carted off the field.
• David Wright showed no ill effects from hitting himself in the head with his own bat on Wednesday. He was in Thursday's lineup and went 2-for-5 with a triple.
• The Nationals have struggled to hold runners on the basepaths this season, having allowed 65 stolen bases in 74 tries, having caught a Major League-worst 12 percent of prospective basestealers.