New York Mets' right-hander Matt Harvey took the mound against the Washington Nationals in the nation's capital last night with a streak of sixteen straight scoreless innings going against the Mets' NL East rivals and a streak of twenty-three straight innings without allowing the Nats to score an earned run.
Harvey entered the series opener in D.C. with a 0.68 ERA in 40 innings pitched against the Nationals in his career.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked before last night's game about the difficulty of facing a pitcher like the Mets' 26-year-old starter.
"I think the only thing that enters a hitter's mind is, 'What am I actually doing at the plate. What am I swinging at?'" Williams explained.
"So, as an example, yesterday with Zack [Greinke], we're not alone in this streak that he's had [43 ⅔ scoreless], but he established low strikes and then off the plate strike. Down out of the strike zone, lots of changeups, lots of sliders.
"The key for us is to be patient enough to get a good one to hit and it doesn't change with Matt [Harvey] tonight or any of the pitchers that we're going to see. If we're patient enough to get good pitches to hit, then we have success, if we're not, then we don't. And that's the bottom line to any hitter against any pitcher. So that's what we think about. We think about what Harvey will give us tonight? Of course he throws high fastballs, and we know that, so we'll try to lay off of that one, and get a good pitch to hit and whack it and go from there, give ourselves some opportunities to score some runs."
A mix of patience, some luck and some shoddy defense on the Mets' part allowed the Nationals to jump out to an early lead with Danny Espinosa singling and Bryce Harper walking in the first before Yunel Escobar's RBI single drove in the first run of the game.
A misplay/mental lapse in the next at bat allowed Harper to score from third base for a 2-0 lead when both runners tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt that Mets' catcher Anthony Recker blocked and recovered in front of the plate. Escobar got caught in a rundown between first and second, and the Mets "forgot" about Harper and allowed him to sneak in.
Espinosa singled and Harper walked again in the third and Clint Robinson lined to center on an 0-1 curve from Harvey to drive in two more for a 4-0 lead. Robinson scored on an error by Daniel Murphy in the next at bat. 5-0.
Harvey settled in and retired the last 14 batters he faced, but the damage was done in what ended up a 7-2 win for the Nationals.
"I think we laid off the high fastball a little bit better," Williams said of the Nationals' approach against Harvey after the game.
"We understand that that's part of his repertoire, when he gets two strikes he likes to elevate that fastball.
"[Harper] laid off a couple. He got a couple of walks early which allowed us to get more baserunners, but for the most part it's important for us to hit strikes and stay middle of the diamond, which we were able to do tonight against him."
Gio Gonzalez earned the win last night, improving to (7-4) on the year. It was the fourth straight start, and sixth in the last seven in which he allowed two earned runs or less.
The two runs he allowed last night came on an 0-2 fastball to Harvey that got too much of the plate. Harvey dumped a bases-loaded single into short right to drive in the only two runs the Nationals' lefty allowed in six innings of work.
Gonzalez got some help from his defenders as well with Yunel Escobar showing off the glove at third and Michael Taylor making a spectacular catch in center. Bryce Harper and Jose Lobaton made great catches to help Casey Janssen through a scoreless frame as well.
"They work hard on it," Williams said when asked about the defense.
"And it takes that to beat a good club. Good pitching. Gio provided us good pitching. He made one mistake to Harvey, but that was about it and defense behind him helps him, helps all of our pitchers, so it's part of the plan.
"It doesn't go like that every day, but that contributes to winning ballgames."
Harvey's early struggles. Gonzalez's solid outing. The Nationals' defense. It all contributed to the Nats' 7-2 win, which gave them a 3.0 game lead over the Mets in the NL East.
• We talked about the win over the NL East's second-place team, Gonzalez vs Harvey, Abel de Los Santos and more on last night's edition of Nats Nightly: