NEW YORK -- It was almost exactly one year ago, beginning on Labor Day, when the Mets marched into Nationals Park, sweeping the Nats in three games to all but seal the National League East title.
Perhaps the Nationals had a note of revenge on their minds Friday when, despite a strong effort by Noah Syndergaard, they grabbed a 4-1 win over the Mets to extend their division lead to 10 1/2 games. A.J. Cole delivered six strong innings in the best start of his young career, while Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos drove in runs off Syndergaard to buoy the Nationals.
Despite the loss, the New York remained two games behind the Cardinals, who lost to Cincinnati on Friday, in the National League Wild Card race, which is the more relevant race for the Mets at this point of the season.
"When you look up and you see you haven't lost any ground, it's not as frustrating," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "You're still there. You know that if you start winning a couple more, if we win the next couple nights, we're not going to lose any more ground. It's all about us taking care of our business."
Making his fourth career start, Cole retired eight straight Mets at one point, cracking only for Asdrubal Cabrera's leadoff homer in the fourth. By that point, he was already working with a two-run cushion, thanks to Harper's sacrifice fly in the first inning and Ramos' RBI single in the fourth.
Syndergaard allowed no other runs, though four Nationals stolen bases -- including two by Trea Turner in the first inning -- spoiled his overall effort. The Nationals then added on late, putting the game out of easy reach when Anthony Rendon singled home two runs in the ninth.
"Those are big runs that Anthony added on because [the Mets] are always dangerous hitting that ball out of the ballpark. They live on [the] home run," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We played a good game. That off-day helped us. We looked sharper than we had been. Hopefully, we keep rolling from here."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Steal on Syndergaard, then score: The Nationals showed they could manufacture runs. In the first inning after he led off with a single, Turner stole second and third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Harper. Three innings later, after he doubled with one out, Harper stole third and scored on a single by Ramos.
"We evolved as a team as far as running the bases," Harper said. "That starts with [first-base coach Davey] Lopes over there. He does a great job over there. It's a lot of fun to have him come up to us every day … and tell us to get your butt going and run the bases. Anytime you can get in scoring position to help your team out in that situation, it's great for us."
Second time's the charm: One of the NL's most productive hitters in recent weeks despite a chronic knee injury, Cabrera elicited a murmur from the crowd in the fourth inning, when he clubbed a would-be homer a few dozen feet foul into the right-field upper deck. One pitch later, Cabrera straightened things out, blasting his solo shot toward the bullpen area in right-center field. It was the shortstop's sixth home run in his last eight games.
Solid start by Cole: Other than the fourth inning, in which he allowed the home run to Cabrera, Cole had the best game of his Major League career, pitching six solid innings and allowing one run. It also earned his first Major League victory.
"It's great [to get the first win]. It's what I've been working towards. I went out there today, not trying to do too much and make my pitches work," Cole said. More >
"I was a little tense and anxious -- Nationals in town, weekend series. I was a little bit out of my delivery, probably the first three innings or so. … But I was able to make some pretty good pitches and go seven." -- Syndergaard
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Turner is the first rookie in franchise history to steal at least 20 bases since Mike Lansing swiped 23 for the Expos in 1993.
Syndergaard has allowed 45 steals, more than twice as many as all but two other pitchers. He is tied for 20th in Major League history in stolen bases allowed in a single season, three-quarters of the way to the record 60 that Dwight Gooden permitted in 1990.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: After not even making the Nationals' starting rotation last season, Tanner Roark has developed into one of their most reliable starters. He is looking to win his 15th game, which would tie teammates Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. He'll pitch in the middle game of the series at 7:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field on Saturday.
Mets: The injury-replacement portion of the Mets' rotation will take its turn beginning Saturday, when Robert Gsellman starts at Citi Field. Gsellman will be making his second career start after losing his first one. Overall, he is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA.