WASHINGTON -- The Mets showed once again Wednesday they can take advantage of a slumping bullpen, sweeping the Nationals to assume their tightest grip yet on the National League East. Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead, two-run homer to send the Mets to a 5-3 victory, moving them seven games ahead of Washington in the National League East race.
"We're legitimate," manager Terry Collins said. "This is not a fluke."
Stephen Strasburg was dominant in his return from a back injury. He left the game with the score tied at 2 in the eighth after allowing a tying homer to pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson.
"It's pretty devastating," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We put ourselves in a good position coming into this series. We were a lot more optimistic coming into this series than exiting it. Is it over? No. Until the numbers tell you it's over, it's not over. We still have jobs to do. We prepare for tomorrow and try to put our best foot forward tomorrow."
After Johnson's homer, manager Matt Williams pulled Strasburg in favor of Drew Storen, who had allowed 13 runs in his last 16 innings entering the game. Cespedes, a .319 hitter against right-handers as opposed to .220 against lefties this year, then redirected a 1-0 pitch into the Mets' bullpen for his 32nd homer.
"Storen is in there to face the righty and get the righty out," Williams said. "It didn't happen. He hung a slider. [Cespedes] hit a homer."
Bryce Harper made it a one-run game when he homered for the second time, this time off Tyler Clippard. It was Harper's 36th home run. He also homered in the first off deGrom, who won his 13th game.
Jeurys Familia blanked the Nationals in the ninth inning to save his 39th game.
The Dodgers' 3-2 loss to the Angels drew the Mets within two games of home-field advantage in a potential NL Division Series. The Mets hold the tiebreaker.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Yo does it again: Shortly after Johnson's homer tied things in the eighth, Williams replaced Strasburg with Storen -- the same pitcher who coughed up the lead in Tuesday's come-from-behind Mets victory. On cue, Cespedes launched a go-ahead, two-run homer, giving the Mets their first lead of the night. Cespedes has taken his play to a new level in September, batting .432 with six home runs and 11 extra-base hits in eight games.
"When guys with this much talent get on these kinds of rolls, it's unbelievable," Johnson said. "It's so much fun to watch. It really does kind of remind you of some throwback player, like your dad used to tell you about Clemente or Mantle." More >
Strasburg dominates: Wednesday night marked the return of Strasburg, who missed a turn because of back tightness, and he was dominant. It was as if he didn't miss a beat in his return. He pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowed three runs on five hits and struck out 13 batters. The 13 strikeouts came in his final five innings.
"I went out there and battled," Strasburg said. "It was a tough one to swallow. We fought to the very end. We have to turn the page. Take tomorrow off and get after it [Friday]."
Pushing all the right buttons: Less than 24 hours after striking gold with pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who delivered a go-ahead home run in Tuesday's game, Collins turned the trick again in the eighth. Rather than let Wilmer Flores lead things off against Strasburg, Collins turned to the left-handed-hitting Johnson, who tied things on a solo homer to right. More >
A one-man rally: Harper, at least, had no trouble figuring out deGrom or anyone else. Dominant against just about everyone but the Mets this season, Harper launched a solo homer in the first inning, then doubled and scored in the fourth. Against former teammate Clippard in the eighth, Harper homered again to draw the Nats within one. But with precious little support around him in the lineup, Harper saw his efforts go for naught.
"To his credit, he has stayed the course and has done really well, regardless of the situation," Williams said about Harper. "He continues to swing the bat very well for us." More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Strasburg has recorded 10-plus strikeouts in a game 18 times during his career.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets:Bartolo Colon will put his career-high 25-inning scoreless streak on the line when the Mets open a four-game series Thursday in Atlanta. Once a long shot to crack the postseason rotation, or perhaps even the roster, Colon has injected himself back into the conversation. He will oppose right-hander Shelby Miller in Thursday's 7:10 p.m. ET game.
Nationals: They have the day off on Thursday and then play a three-game series against the Marlins at Marlins Park starting Friday night at 7:10 p.m. ET. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez makes the start in the first game. A native of Hialeah, Fla., Gonzalez has made only three regular-season starts in Miami and is 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA in nine games against the Marlins.