By James Kenney
The Nationals solidified a series win against their National League East rival the New York Mets on Thursday evening in a spectacular fashion, winning 9-1. What was supposed to the premier rubber match of the decisive series between the two clubs and their elite pitchers, Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey, ended up being a batting showcase for the Nats with four hitters having two or more hits. In taking the series in two impressive wins, the Nats showed they were deserving of first place atop the crowded NL East, holding a one game and two and a half game lead over the Phillies and the reigning NL champions, respectively.
Former Met and second basemen Daniel Murphy began the offensive assault on Harvey and made his free agency departure from Citi Field felt in the first inning of Thursday’s contest. After stepping into the box to a chorus a boos, Murphy launched a two-run shot to deep center field. The homerun came off a lively 0-2 breaking ball from Harvey.
Before rounding the bases to yet another series of boos from the crowd in Flushing, Murphy again showed why his masterful offensive performance this season has been so impressive. Yes, he can long homeruns and get numerous hits, but many of his hits are in pitchers’ counts with one or two outs. Professional hitters can get hits in those tough situations.
Despite Murphy characteristically racking up hits and hovering around a .400 batting average, the Mets, particularly Matt Harvey, and the Nationals were not themselves. Harvey, who finished the game with a 3-6 record and 5.77 ERA, was pulled after eight hits and seven runs in just 2.2 innings, making the rout by the Nats the worst game in his career. With the series being a showdown between two World Series hopefuls, Harvey, who was booed on multiple occasions, knew all eyes would be on this game, seemingly cracked under the pressure and was fully aware of his embarrassing performance.
“Everybody saw the game. It’s pretty obvious what happened. I’m not happy about it,” said Harvey.
Harvey’s horrendous third inning was not helped by the Mets’ poor defensive effort. New York’s sole error, by former Nat Asdrubal Cabrera, and a pair of outfield gaffes by Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes all lead to Nationals runs. It seemed as if the team and Harvey were both giving up on each other as balls were not dived for and throws all over the diamond were not crisp or accurate. If the Mets keep playing this way in the field behind pitching like this from Harvey and with only one run on the board each night, the 2.5 game gap between the first place Nats and third place Metropolitans will only get wider, especially with the surging Phillies.
Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper exorcised his demons and broke his 0-20 hitless streak against the usually dominant Harvey with a frozen rope single and a run, although his average still loiters in the mid-.200s. The Nats’ usual suspects with Harper of Murphy and catcher Wilson Ramos continued their offensive production. Those three were not the only ones knocking around New York’s “Dark Knight”. Outfielder Ben Revere continued to heat up at the plate with two hits and two RBIs and had a huge triple that contributed two of seven runs from Harvey’s nightmare third inning. Danny Espinosa had two hits and Anthony Rendon had three, positive signs for the offensively struggling infielders. When the Nationals can score first, have big innings, and get hits outside of Harper, Ramos, and Murphy, they can beat anyone, but Manager Dusty Baker recognizes his club still has a ways to go.
“You see guys like [Rendon] driving in runs, that makes you feel good. The guys are saying, ‘That’s the Anthony we know.’ We still have a couple guys [that need to swing the bat]. We still have some work to do,” said Baker.
The seven run tally was more than enough run support for hard throwing Strasburg, who is now 7-0 on the season. Strasburg was stellar on the bump, allowing one run and striking out ten over six innings of work. His fastball had movement and the Mets hitters were not touching his off-speed pitches. Since signing his seven year, $175 million contract 10 days ago, Strasburg has posted a sub-3.00 ERA and struck out 21 batters in 12 innings of work. This shut down of the high octane Mets was the fourth time this season that Strasburg has stuck out at least 10 in a game. On Thursday night, Strasburg showed that he could shut down one of the more talented teams in the league. If he can replicate last night’s game with even a fraction of the run support, he will prove to be worth every penny.
After the Cespedes’ solo homerun in the first inning off Strasubrg, the Mets’ bats would go quiet in dealing with Strasburg and relievers Blake Treinen, Oliver Perez, and Jonathan Papelbon. The Nats would ride their pitchers from the last run they scored off Revere’s two out, two run triple to the final out of the game.
The Nats will look to reuse the blueprints of last night’s victory: dominant pitching, hitting from the top and bottom of the order, and taking advantage of the opponent’s mistakes, to carry them through the next series against the Marlins in Miami this weekend.