WASHINGTON -- One of the reasons the Nationals might be able to withstand the loss of Stephen Strasburg if he can not pitch again this season is the emergence of right-hander Tanner Roark as a frontline starter. Roark turned in another stellar outing Wednesday afternoon by tossing seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, as he continues to establish himself as one of the premier starters in the National League.
Roark's performance, alongside a solo home run by Wilson Ramos in the seventh, helped the Nationals move a step closer to securing their third NL East title in five seasons with a 1-0 victory over the Mets at Nationals Park. Washington reduced its magic number to seven.
"As we got into that ninth inning with a one-run lead, yeah, I got emotional," said Speier, who said Baker was like his brother. "I was saying some powerful prayers. This one's for Dusty."
The Cardinals and Giants also both lost Wednesday, so the Mets did not lose any ground in the National League Wild Card race, remaining a half-game ahead of St. Louis for the second spot and a half-game behind San Francisco for the top spot. New York received a strong outing from right-hander Robert Gsellman, who tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings as he continues to be a solid option for the rotation.
"You can't get too [upset] because you didn't lose any ground," manager Terry Collins said of the Mets' series loss. "We didn't drop out. We're still right where we are. And we're going home in the Wild Card hunt. Our fans should be excited. It's the last homestand. Our fans should come out and see what happens."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Roark does it again: Roark was the odd man out of the rotation last season after the team signed Max Scherzer as a free agent, and his emergence has been among the Nationals' most pleasant surprises. He tossed at least seven scoreless innings for the ninth time this season, the most in the Majors (Chicago's Jake Arrieta has seven). He lowered his ERA to 2.75, the lowest mark in the Nationals' rotation, and reached the 15-win plateau, matching his career high.
Deep freeze: The Mets never mustered a better opportunity against Roark than in the first inning, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. The next batter, Jay Bruce, swung and missed at a fastball, fouled off a slider and then stared at a two-seamer that cut back over the heart of the plate. Moments later, T.J. Rivera flied out to end the threat. Bruce finished without an extra-base hit for the seventh consecutive game, a span of 30 plate appearances.
"I didn't feel like I had a pitch that I could handle," Bruce said. "I swung at two borderline pitches early, then he threw a front-door two-seamer to strike me out. Hindsight, I probably should have tried to take at least the first pitch, and see what happened. But they were all borderline. I feel like he made good pitches." More >
Buffalo blast: After he had been so productive at the plate all season, hitting as high as .331 as recently as Aug. 16, Ramos had been scuffling lately as his batting average dropped nearly 30 points in the last month. So it would have been hard to blame Ramos for taking an extra moment to admire his towering homer in the seventh inning, his first since Aug. 28, as it traveled a Statcast™-projected 427 feet and left his bat at 110 mph.
"I've been concentrating on relaxing more at the plate," Ramos said through an interpreter. "Concentrating on looking for my particular pitches and taking -- these last three games I've felt very good taking my walks. I've been looking at a lot of pitches and been more selective, and I've just been feeling more comfortable and just more relaxed." More >
Smoke alarm: Stuck in a scoreless game in the sixth inning, the Mets weren't taking any chances despite Gsellman's strong outing. With Roark on second and two outs, Collins brought in lefty specialist Josh Smoker to intentionally walk Daniel Murphy, preferring to face Bryce Harper -- something Collins said he couldn't have envisioned doing prior to the season. Smoker then attacked Harper, freezing him on a 96-mph fastball to reward Collins' strategy.
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Murphy singled with two outs in the first inning, giving him a hit in all 19 games against the Mets this season. It's the longest single-season hitting streak against any one team in the divisional era (1969).
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: The Mets will return to Queens for their final homestand of the regular season, a 10-game slate beginning Friday against the Twins. Bartolo Colon will start Friday's 7:10 p.m. ET opener at Citi Field opposite 22-year-old right-hander Jose Berrios, who is roughly half his age.
Nationals: After an off-day Thursday, the Nationals will begin their final series at Turner Field on Friday night at 7:35 p.m. Max Scherzer will start on an extra day of rest as he aims to continue a season that has put him in contention for the NL Cy Young Award.