NEW YORK — Even though they’re comfortably ahead in the NL East, the Washington Nationals are waiting to really take off. At least, that’s what manager Dusty Baker says.
“I still believe that we haven’t hit our stride yet. I mean, every team’s won seven, eight, nine, 10 in a row except us. So, I still believe our best time of the year is yet to come,” he said Sunday night.
The Nationals wound up leaving Citi Field with two straight losses, the latest when rookie Seth Lugo pitched the New York Mets to a 5-1 win.
Reynaldo Lopez (2-3) gave up three runs on six hits, three wild pitches and a walk in four innings. Called up from Triple-A before the game, he did get his first major league hit.
Lopez hit the upper 90s mph, but as he’s learned from his back-and-forth trips between the majors and minors, it’s hard to overwhelm big leaguers with pure heat.
“Hitters are very intelligent, and that’s not about power on my end. It’s not about trying to throw the ball past everybody. I’ve got to pitch intelligently and got to be smart and get smarter,” he said through a translator.
Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce each hit a two-run homer as the Mets won for the 11th time in 15 tries and stayed within one game of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card slot.
Lugo (3-2) limited the Nationals to one run and six hits in seven innings, walking none and striking out four. The 26-year-old righty has won three straight starts, permitting a total of three runs, to help rejuvenate an injury-plagued rotation.
Lugo wobbled in the first inning, giving up two quick hits, plunking a batter, making multiple pickoff throws and drawing a visit from pitching coach Dan Warthen. Lugo escaped a bases-loaded jam by retiring Wilson Ramos on a nubber and later set down 10 hitters in a row.
“Had him on the ropes in the first inning and we didn’t cash it in. It could have been a different ballgame,” Baker said.
Granderson drove in three runs. New York set a team record with its 97th home run at home in a season, topping the 96 at Shea Stadium in 2006.
Danny Espinosa matched a career high with his 21st homer for Washington.
Daniel Murphy singled and has a hit in all 16 games this season against the Mets, the team he helped send to the World Series last year.
Granderson hit his 23rd homer. Bruce connected for his 29th off Mat Latos, who made his Washington debut after being released by the White Sox in June.
IT’S A FAKE
Nationals star Bryce Harper always gets booed at Citi Field, and drew another earful after faking out the New York crowd. The right fielder caught a ball near the line to end the first and pretended to flip it to Mets fans, then cut across the diamond and tossed the souvenir to kids wearing Washington hats above the dugout.
The Mets and Nationals both wore hats honoring New York’s police, fire, Port Authority and other first responders during batting practice. The Mets also will wear them next Sunday on Sept. 11. This was their last home game before the 9/11 anniversary and they received permission from Major League Baseball for the tribute. The Mets asked the Nationals if they’d want to join them, and they did.
“These guys need to be rewarded,” Mets manager Terry Collins said, wearing an NYPD hat.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (sore elbow) threw a bullpen before the game and Baker said the reports were good. There is a chance the ace could start Wednesday at home vs. Atlanta.
Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (forearm) is still resting and it’s “very possible” he could miss two starts, Collins said.
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-7, 2.89 ERA) was returning to Washington early to prepare for his start at 4:05 p.m. Monday against Atlanta. His start was pushed back a day to give him extra rest. Ryan Weber (1-0, 5.24) was to pitch for the Braves.