The Mets might have just improved their record to 7-1 with a second straight thrilling, one-run victory over the Nationals, and more wins might be in store for the club as it sets its sights on Miami, a city that might have more New York supporters than hometown fans these days. However, Sunday night’s extra-inning win in Washington wasn’t exactly proof that the Mets are ready to run with the big dogs. Matt Harvey made it through five innings, Adrian Gonzalez came up big, and the bullpen continued its stingy ways, but the series finale felt like it was more about the Nationals blowing chances than the Mets asserting their dominance.
Here are four key points in which Washington looked like it was giving the game away.
Tanner Roark walked three straight, leading to Gonzalez’s grand slam
The Nationals were off to a fast start thanks to a mammoth home run by Bryce Harper, and they looked ready to salvage a game from New York with Roark striking out three batters over his first two frames of work. The third got off to a similarly good start for the right-hander, as he struck out Michael Conforto and got Yoenis Cespedes to fly out. That’s when Roark — who has walked about three batters per nine innings over his past two campaigns — lost control and offered free passes to Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
That set the stage for Gonzalez to endear himself to Mets fans, which he did by knocking the first pitch in his at-bat over the right field wall, staking the Mets to a 4-2 lead and two-thirds of their scoring output for the evening. The Mets are good at drawing walks, and you have to give some credit to the batters for their patience, but there is no excuse for Roark to not make the guys take the bats off their shoulders with two outs and a two-run lead.
Anthony Rendon just missed taking Harvey deep
Harvey appeared to bounce back well from the Harper home run when he got through the second and third innings in short order, but in the fourth he looked like he was ready to unravel. Light-hitting catcher Pedro Severino came up with two outs and provided a chance to get out of the inning, but instead Harvey laid up a fastball in the middle of the plate, and Severino ripped it into left field for an RBI double.
The snowball really started rolling downhill when Harvey misplayed a Roark comebacker, allowing the pitcher to reach base. Then, he hit Adam Eaton with a pitch to load the bases. In the ESPN booth, Alex Rodriguez played manager, saying he would not allow Harvey to face Harper if the MVP candidate came to bat once again. However, Rendon has proven to be a fearsome slugger in his own right, and he showed off his talent by shooting a first-pitch slider deep into left field. For a moment, it looked like Washington was destined for a grand slam of its own, but the ball held up for Cespedes on the warning track, and Harvey escaped with a one-run lead.
Howie Kendrick hit into a double play at the perfect time
The fourth should have been a sign that Harvey was done for the night, but Mickey Callaway stuck with him in the fifth, in part due to the Mets extending their lead on an Asdrubal Cabrera home run in the top of the inning. Harvey rewarded the skipper’s faith by getting out to an 0-2 start on Bryce Harper, but it turned out that the slugger was just toying with his prey. He ended up ripping a single into left field before Harvey dug the hole deeper by walking Matt Adams on four pitches. Now it really looked like the former All-Star was toast, but fortunately Howie Kendrick — who was only batting fifth and playing second base because of Daniel Murphy’s continued injury absence — hit a ground ball to shortstop that Amed Rosario easily turned into two outs.
Trea Turner ran the Nationals out of the fifth inning
Even that double play wasn’t enough to get Harvey out of the inning. He allowed a hard single to Trea Turner, and the speedster quickly got into scoring position as the tying run by stealing second base. The trouble only continued when Michael A. Taylor hit a dribbler to the first base side that turned into an infield single. It looked like Severino would come up with runners on the corners, but Turner got greedy and took a big turn around third. Gonzalez came up big once again, throwing behind the lead runner to catch him in a rundown that ended in the third out.
Washington would tie the game eventually against Robert Gsellman in the seventh, but they barely missed a couple of opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings to take the lead before then. In fact, you can argue that Washington outplayed New York throughout the game, as the red squad recorded four more hits and three fewer errors than the visitors.
There’s no point in throwing a wet blanket on the Mets’ amazing sweep this weekend, but last night did highlight a few of the issues that might keep their hot start from blossoming into a fun summer. Harvey looked a lot like the version of himself that struggled last year, and the Mets completely failed to keep the Nationals honest on the basepaths. Three wins in the bank against the National League East favorite is a great way to start the campaign, but there are still warning signs that this team could end up closer to the .500 mark than where it is now.