It was about as bad an encore as the Washington Nationals could have created.
Fresh off a brutal 4-3 loss Sunday night at the Chicago Cubs that saw closer Ryan Madson give up a two-out, two-strike pinch-hit grand slam to rookie David Bote in the bottom of the ninth, Washington concocted another gutpunch defeat Monday night.
Paul DeJong's leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth gave the surging St. Louis Cardinals a 7-6 win, their MLB-high 10th walkoff victory of the year. The result, teamed with Atlanta's doubleheader sweep of Miami, dropped the Nationals seven games out of first in the National League East.
With just 43 games left, Washington can't afford too many more defeats if it's to reach the postseason for the third straight year. It will try to get back on the winning beam Tuesday night in the second game of their four-game set with St. Louis at Busch Stadium.
Veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez (7-8, 3.89) takes the mound for the Nationals, hoping to reverse a recent trend of following a good start with a bad one. He's coming off a 6-3 win Thursday over the Braves at Nationals Park, holding them to six hits and a run over seven innings with a walk and three strikeouts.
He gave credit to catcher Matt Wieters for his excellent outing.
"I have better command when I don't think -- when I don't have to think," Gonzalez told mlb.com. "That's why I credit the big guy behind the plate. He did all the work for me."
Gonzalez, who was hammered for 10 hits and six runs in his previous outing against Cincinnati, usually pitches well against the Cardinals. In eight career starts, he's 3-3 with a 2.35 earned run average and a shutout.
Opposing Gonzalez will be right-hander John Gant (4-4, 3.89), who in his last game Wednesday night in Miami was outstanding. Gant used just 63 pitches in six innings, allowing only two hits and a run with a walk and four whiffs in a 7-1 victory.
The former Atlanta prospect has faced Washington (60-59) just twice in his career and it hasn't gone well. He's 0-1 with a 16.88 ERA, pitching just 2 2/3 innings and yielding five runs off seven hits and three walks. But Gant has limited opponents to a .209 batting average in 2018.
Gant is also pitching for a team on a roll. St. Louis (64-55) is nine games over .500 for the first time this year and has won six straight games. Since interim manager Mike Shildt took over when Mike Matheny was fired after a July 14 loss to Cincinnati, the Cardinals are 17-9.
"We're playing every game like the playoffs," DeJong said after his game-winning homer. "We were coming off a good road trip, so to get the win tonight on a walkoff, it's just sweet for us."
The result moved St. Louis within two games of Philadelphia and Milwaukee in the NL wild-card race and also brought it within five games of Chicago for first place in the NL Central.