NEW YORK — That comfortable cushion Washington has built in the NL East sure came in handy Saturday night.
Curtis Granderson and James Loney delivered big hits to back Robert Gsellman, and the banged-up New York Mets got another gritty start from an unheralded rookie in their 3-1 victory over the Nationals.
“It was kind of a nothing game,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said after his team went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. “We didn’t come through all game.”
Anthony Rendon hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the first, but that was it at the plate. Speedy leadoff man Trea Turner went 0 for 5, ending his on-base streak at 21 games hours after he was selected NL rookie of the month for August.
Danny Espinosa struck out all four times up for the Nationals, who still have a 9 1/2-game lead over the second-place Mets.
“He’s swinging too hard when we need to put the ball in play,” Baker said. “That’s something that we’re addressing and he’s got to keep working on it.”
Tanner Roark (14-8) allowed two runs over five innings and walked a career-high four — one intentional. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth, but the Nationals never broke through and had their four-game winning streak snapped.
Washington dropped to 15-5 in his last 20 starts dating to May 20.
“Not a good outing on my part,” Roark said. “There was nothing effective in the strike zone.”
Gsellman (2-1) pitched out of trouble for six innings, and inexperienced center fielder Michael Conforto made a diving catch that thwarted a potential Nationals rally in the seventh.
New York rebounded from consecutive losses and won for the 10th time in 14 games, moving within one game of St. Louis for the final NL playoff berth.
“We’re right there,” Loney said. “This is what we play for.”
Making his third major league appearance and second start, the 23-year-old Gsellman was pumped up after wriggling out of a jam in the sixth. With runners at second and third, he fanned Espinosa and got pinch hitter Ben Revere on an inning-ending groundout.
Addison Reed tossed a 1-2-3 eighth and Jeurys Familia whiffed two in a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 45th save in 48 tries, extending his franchise record.
Gsellman earned his first career win as a starter.
New York had lost four straight and seven of eight to the Nationals.
On fireworks night at Citi Field, Granderson hit a two-run single in the third on the first pitch after Yoenis Cespedes was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs.
“I didn’t want to walk him at all,” Roark said. “I don’t like to intentionally walk anybody. I like to challenge them. It is what it is.”
Granderson had been 0 for 22 with runners in scoring position dating to July 24, and 1 for 31 since July 7.
Loney, also struggling in the clutch, added an RBI double with two outs in the sixth off Matt Belisle. Travis d’Arnaud scored easily from first base when Bryce Harper overthrew two cutoff men from the right-field corner.
With his first extra-base hit since Aug. 1, Loney ended slumps of 0 for 14 and 1 for 20.
LONG ROAD BACK
Sean Burnett retired Granderson on a line drive to center to end the seventh, the left-hander’s first major league appearance since May 27, 2014, with the Los Angeles Angels at Seattle. Burnett had Tommy John surgery in June 2014.
“The long run into the mound, a lot of thoughts went through my mind,” he said. “It’s been a long road and been some tough times and tough days when you question if my arm was ever going to feel good again, am I going to get back to this level, am I going to be able to compete at this level? So, it’s just great to be back.”
Baker said it was “very nice” to see Burnett out there.
“We have all the faith in Sean Burnett, ’cause I’ve see what Sean Burnett can do. He throws strikes,” the manager explained. “The guy’s unfazed with all the pressure. I think Sean Burnett’s going to come up big down the stretch.”
Nationals: Max Scherzer’s next start was pushed back a day to give the ace right-hander extra rest. Scherzer initially was lined up to pitch the series finale Sunday night. Instead, the Nationals plan to recall rookie right-hander Reynaldo Lopez from Triple-A Syracuse to make that start — weather permitting. Scherzer is scheduled to go Monday against last-place Atlanta.
Daniel Murphy joined Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn as the only players to hit safely in each of their first 15 games against the Mets. Murphy is batting .408 with seven homers and 21 RBIs versus New York.
Nationals: The 22-year-old Lopez made his major league debut July 19 and is 2-2 with a 5.33 ERA in five starts for Washington.
Mets: Rookie RHP Seth Lugo (2-2, 2.60 ERA) makes his fourth career start and tries to win his third in a row.