WASHINGTON -- The battle of the National League East began in earnest on Monday night at Nationals Park. Two games separated Washington and New York entering the game, but the Nationals increased their lead to three games by defeating the Mets, 7-2.
For the third day in a row, the Nationals had to face another ace, this time Mets right-hander Matt Harvey. But unlike like their last two games, Washington didn't look helpless. The Nationals scored early and often and had a five-run lead by the third inning. After three innings, Harvey settled down; he went seven innings, allowing the five runs on five hits and striking out three, and he plated both Mets runs with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the fourth.
Gio Gonzalez started for the Nationals on 10 days' rest. He threw a lot of pitches (107) but managed to pick up his seventh win of the season. He lasted six innings and allowed two runs on six hits.
"It means that [catcher Jose Lobaton] and I, we're doing our job, just sticking together, just keeping our composure," Gonzalez said. "Lobi wanted me to finish strong. I was just happy that they gave me an extra inning and [that I didn't] finish with five. [The Mets] were scrappy the whole time. They didn't give in. They were fighting all the way to the end."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Nationals get the early jump: After looking helpless against Dodgers aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Nationals were able to handle Harvey without any problems. The Nationals plated two runs in the first inning, with Yunel Escobar highlighting the scoring with an RBI single. Clint Robinson had the big hit, a two-run double, two innings later.
"It was important. The last couple of days, with Greinke and Kershaw, I think it helped us out with Harvey today," Robinson said. "It gave us a preview of what to expect from a stuff standpoint. We just went out there and executed our game plan. You saw the results."
Manager Matt Williams said the Nationals avoided swinging at the high fastball better than they did against Kershaw and Greinke.
"[Harvey] likes to elevate that fastball," Williams said. "[Bryce Harper] laid off a couple. He had a couple of walks early, which allowed us to get more baserunners. But for the most part, it's important for us to hit strikes and stay in the middle of the diamond, which we were able to do tonight against him."
Defense, defense, defense: The Nationals made two great defensive plays that prevented the Mets from scoring at least two runs. In the first inning, New York had runners on first and third with two outs when John Mayberry Jr. hit a shot down the third-base line. Escobar made a sliding stop and threw out Mayberry easily at first base. Four innings later, the Mets had runners on first and second with two outs when Eric Campbell hit a long drive to right-center. The speed of center fielder Michael Taylor allowed him to go a long way to catch the ball near the wall.
"[Taylor] went a long way," Williams said. "That wall comes up quick, but it was a perfect read, perfect angle, and he was able to run it down. When he gets going after three or four steps, he is really going. He covers a lot of ground out there." More >
Clawing back: Though Harvey was far from his usual dominant self on the mound, he brought the Mets back into the game with a two-run single off Gonzalez in the fourth inning. That hit scored Campbell and Juan Lagares, who had walked and doubled with two outs, respectively. Gonzalez then intentionally walked Anthony Recker to get to Harvey.
"In that situation, I didn't want to do too much," Harvey said. "Obviously, in an 0-2 count, at that point I didn't want to make it a really quick at-bat. I wanted to at least foul something off or put something in play, and I was able to find enough bat to get it over his head."
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After walking four or more batters just once in his first 41 career starts, Harvey has done so in three consecutive games.
Harper extended his on-base streak to 17 games, the second-longest on-base streak of his career. With a pair of walks, he improved his on-base percentage to .458.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: Fresh off a brilliant first half and a dominant All-Star Game performance, Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.14 ERA) will make his first second-half appearance in Tuesday's 7:05 p.m. ET game at Nationals Park. The Mets' lone All-Star has not pitched since striking out the side on 10 pitches in the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati. Upon returning to his own clubhouse three days later, deGrom received a standing ovation from his Mets teammates.
Nationals: Right-hander Joe Ross will return to the big leagues and make his fourth start on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET against the Mets. In his first stint in the big leagues, Ross was impressive, going 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings. His best game occurred on July 13, when he pitched eight innings and allowed two runs on seven hits in a 7-2 victory over the Brewers.