The Mets’ win prevented a Nationals sweep of the four-game series, and it also ended a run of futility at home against their main divisional rivals — Washington won the first six games at Citi Field this season. But the net effect was that the weekend ended with the Mets two games further behind the Nationals than they were when it started.
“There’s only so many gut punches you can take before you’re down on your knees,” Manager Terry Collins said. “You can only take so many blows before you start to feel sorry for yourself. But if you do that, you’re not going to have much of a chance. We’ll bounce back and we’ll start playing good.”
Collins continues to believe that the Mets can come back in the second half of the season.
“If you continue to win games, you can get back in the race,” he said. “Today was a huge win for us, but we got to play again tomorrow against another good team.”
That team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of nine of their past 10. After having faced pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in their first three games against the Nationals, the Mets now must face Clayton Kershaw in the series opener on Monday.
DeGrom kept the Nationals in the ballpark on Sunday after Mets pitchers had allowed seven home runs in the first three games of the series. He hit the only home run of the game himself, tying the score by jumping on Nationals starter Joe Ross’s first pitch of the third inning. It was deGrom’s first major league home run after 176 at-bats, and it was hit with a bat borrowed from David Wright.
“I used it because I thought it was a good bunting bat,” deGrom joked. “I think I’ll hold onto it for a while.”
The Mets added two runs in the fourth. The first came when Nationals catcher Matt Wieters, after having apparently tagged Lucas Duda out at home plate, lost control of the ball, and the second came on a run-scoring single by Michael Conforto. A sacrifice bunt by deGrom set up another run-scoring single by Conforto in the sixth, and Curtis Granderson singled in the Mets’ fifth run in the seventh.
DeGrom followed his best outing of the season, a complete-game victory over the Cubs last Monday, with eight strong innings. He allowed three hits, none between Trea Turner’s third-inning single and pinch-hitter Stephen Drew’s eighth-inning single. DeGrom’s longevity benefited greatly from a six-pitch sixth inning and a 10-pitch seventh.
“I could have used one more like that,” he said. “I would have loved to finish up today, but it was hot out there.”
The only run off deGrom was unearned after Wilmer Flores booted Brian Goodwin’s grounder in the first inning. For deGrom, who struck out six, it was a promising return to form after back-to-back poor performances on May 31 and June 6, when he allowed 15 earned runs in a total of eight innings against the Milwaukee Brewers and the Texas Rangers.
DeGrom attributed his improvement to increased use of his changeup, a pitch he had started to use less this season, and the addition of a second bullpen session between starts a few weeks ago.
Collins said that with Harvey and Noah Syndergaard sidelined indefinitely with injuries, no player was more important than deGrom if the Mets were to claw their way back into contention.
“Sandy Koufax told me a long time ago, you got to have a guy who’s going to be 12 games over .500 in your starting rotation to have a chance to compete,” Collins said, referring to the Hall of Fame pitcher. “And right now, Jake is leading the pack to be that guy. Guys like that stop losing streaks.”
The Nationals’ Daniel Murphy hit a double in the ninth inning to keep alive his streak of reaching base safely in every game he has played against the Mets since leaving as a free agent after the 2015 season. Murphy is hitting .391 with eight home runs, 10 doubles, a triple and 29 R.B.I. in 29 games against the Mets.
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