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Washington Nationals drop 7-5 series opener to New York Mets in dramatic fashion...

Washington swept their three-game set with the New York Mets last weekend in Citi Field, but Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker knew they’d be in for a fight this weekend in D.C.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

With wins in nine of ten games on their recently-completed road trip, the Washington Nationals opened up a 4.0 game lead in the NL East heading into Friday night’s series opener with the New York Mets in the nation’s capital.

The Mets, expected to be the Nats’ main competition in the division, lost 9 of 10 over that same stretch, including three-straight to the Nationals in Citi Field last weekend.

With the rough, injury-filled stretch, the Mets fell 7.5 games behind Washington, and 3.5 behind the second-place Philadelphia Phillies, who won eight of their last ten and six straight overall before Friday.

In his pregame press conference before the start of this weekend’s three-game set in D.C., Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker was asked about the opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Mets, even in the first month of the season.

“You always want to pad the lead,” Baker said.

“And you realize that these guys, you can tell how Terry Collins is managing them, he’s doing everything he can to win every game to stay close in the race.

“So this is definitely going to be a good series and a good fight, because these guys were in the World Series a couple of years ago, they’re not going to give up.

“It’s up to us to just go out and play and play ball.”

Baker added that he was proud of the way his team handled what could have been a rough road trip through Atlanta, New York, and Colorado.

“I’ve got to give my guys big-time props for not complaining about the time,” he said.

“I didn’t hear anybody talk about being tired, or anybody talking about how hard it is, because they certainly could have complained, and they just went out and played and that says a lot for our team.”

Down 2-0 early in last night’s series opener, the Nationals rallied back.

Travis d’Arnaud opened the scoring with a two-run blast off Max Scherzer in the top of the second inning, but Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters hit solo and two-run shots, respectively, in the bottom of the frame to make it a 3-2 game in the Nats’ favor.

d’Arnaud homered off Scherzer again in the fourth, hitting a three-run blast, 5-3, and a two-run top of the eighth gave New York some breathing room, 7-3.

Zimmerman’s second home run of the game made it a two-run game again, 7-5, and the Nats did load the bases with no one out in the ninth with three straight singles off Mets’ closer Juery Familia, (losing Adam Eaton to an injury in the process) but Familia struck Trea Turner out and handed the ball to Josh Edgin, who got a grounder back to the mound from Bryce Harper to start a game-ending 1-2-3 DP.

Baker was asked after the 7-5 loss what the Mets were able to do differently against Scherzer after he’d limited the Nats’ divisional rivals to three runs on five hits in last Sunday’s series finale in Citi Field.

“What they did better was they had d’Arnaud back there, that’s what they did better,” Baker said.

“I mean he drove in five runs with a pair of homers and they didn’t have him last time.

“Looked like they were sitting more on Max’s fastball than his breaking ball than his breaking balls, offspeed pitches, you saw them really taking most of the off-speed pitches, and I’m sure Max didn’t locate as well as he would have liked to, but he battled, he gave us six innings, the bullpen did a good job, so like I said, we had action on winning the game, it would have been great, great comeback.”

deGrom was sharper as well, striking out 12 total and 10 of the last 15 batters he retired as he held the Nationals off the board after Wieters’ home run.

“When he gave up the home run to Wieters, that ticked him off,” Terry Collins said after the win. “

“He came inside and you could tell by his expression and the way he went about things he was going to turn it up.”

“deGrom’s good, man, he’s one of the best in baseball, he’s an All-Star,” Bryce Harper said.

“So he’s always tough going out there. I think he’s one of the best in all of baseball.

“Facing him is always tough, 98-99, his heater up in the zone it’s tough to hit, and had his offspeed going, changeup, slider, slider at 92 mph, it’s a pretty tough pitch to hit. I’ll tip my cap any day to that guy.”

Asked if he was surprised that Collins brought on Edgin to face Harper, who was 9 for 13 vs LHPs this season before the groundout in the ninth, Baker said, “No.”

“Not really, I mean, like, right now they’re in a desperate situation where they’re got to try to win every game they can, they’ve got to put feelings and pride aside, so no it wasn’t a shock, I saw [Edgin] warming up in the bullpen and then if he had gotten Bryce, then they were going to bring in [Fernando] Salas to face Zim.

“So, I mean, Bryce is hitting .750 off of left-handers, so you know, that wasn’t a great move, but it was a necessary move that they had to make.”

The .750 AVG Baker mentioned was a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.

“Lefties have had success against Jeurys in the past,” Collins explained when asked about the move. “Bryce is hitting everybody, but I just said if he’s going to get a hit he’s going to have to get a hit off a lefty.”

Harper wasn’t surprised by the move either.

“Edgin was warming up so I thought I’d face him definitely. He threw me a backup slider the second pitch, hit that over the dugout, and then threw me a regular slider and got me, just part of the game and part of the process. I’ll face him again.”

The Nationals will face the Mets again this afternoon in the second game of three in D.C. at 1:05 PM EDT.