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Don’t run on Yan: Washington Nationals’ catcher Yan Gomes cleans bases, hits walk-off winner vs. New York Mets

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Veteran leads majors with 14 runners caught stealing...

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

If the New York Mets hadn’t noticed how dangerous Yan Gomes has made the basepaths of Nationals Park for opposing runners, or how hot he’s been at the plate the past few games, they might want to game plan for the Washington Nationals’ catcher in the rest of this four-game series in the nation’s capital.

Gomes cut down two Mets’ baserunners Friday night to increase his major league-leading total to 14 for the season, cleaning up the bases to maintain a scoreless tie until he could win it himself with an RBI single in the ninth.

“He’s been awesome,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward.

“And what he’s meant for this team, his leadership, and the way he controls our pitchers, he’s done a great job.”

In the third inning, Nats’ starter Erick Fedde had still not allowed a hit but issued his second walk to Mets’ center fielder Mason Williams, who’s played in 15 games since being called up.

With pitcher Joey Lucchesi batting left-handed at the plate, the Mets went to the bunt-and-run, and on a 1-2 pitch, Lucchesi pulled back his bunt on a sinker that missed low.

Gomes saw what was happening and was hopping up from his crouch when the ball arrived.

He fired a low throw to Trea Turner, already down at second, who dropped his glove to the first-base side of the bag, where Williams slid right into it.

The next time the Mets led off with a hit, in the fifth, Luis Guillorme had a little better jump on Fedde with Tomás Nido at the plate, but the results weren’t much different. Gomes fired from his knees to Turner, who swept into Guillorme to erase the threat from what would be Mets’ final base hit of the game.

Gomes said he’s improved his technique since an off year in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, working with bullpen coach Henry Blanco.

“Once you start getting into that thought process where you’re not throwing runners out, you’re trying to do too much, and I felt like that’s what I was doing,” said Gomes after Friday night’s game. “Because I was short-hopping a lot of guys. Now it’s just a matter of trusting our guys up the middle, just giving them, if anything, a decent throw and let them put a tag on.”

It’s been a focus all season, Gomes said.

“We kind of just tried to look at what was working, and then we kind of worked on it a little bit earlier in the year,” said Gomes. “And then we kind of know what to go back to when things — my ball is sailing or I’m coming short or things like that.”

Martinez also noted that bench coach Randy Knorr has been working with pitchers help the catchers do their job. “We’ve thrown out quite a bit of guys this year,” said Martinez a couple weeks back. “But that all pertains about him being on the pitchers about being quicker, being aware of the runners. A lot of it has to do with Randy.”

If the Mets’ baserunners had not known that Gomes came into the game with the fifth-highest caught-stealing percentage in the major leagues at 37.5, the team might not have noticed Gomes is also having a great week at the plate.

So when Juan Soto led off the ninth with a walk against Mets closer Edwin Díaz, and Ryan Zimmerman advanced him to third on a hit through the right-side hole, the Mets did not consider walking Gomes to load the bases. In fact, they didn’t even put in a new pitcher to face him, putting faith in his low .216/.269/.369 righty-righty line and his 0-for-3 night at the plate to that point.

Gomes’ .255/.291/.724 season line is certainly nothing to overlook, but he is also one of the hottest hitters in the game. He went 1-for-3 in Sunday’s 5-0 win over San Francisco and was 3-for-10 with five RBI on two homers, including a grand slam, in three games against Pittsburgh. He also has a .364/.462/.636 line in late/close situations this season.

Gomes knew he was in for a battle.

“Díaz is a tremendous closer, he’s done it for a while now, he’s having a tremendous year,” said Gomes.

Díaz attacked Gomes high in the zone for strike one, but had trouble locating his four-seam fastball on the outside of the plate, and Gomes took two balls to get ahead in the count.

Gomes was ready when Díaz came back inside with his next fastball and fought off a borderline pitch to even the count.

“You’re just coming up there trying not to do too much. There’s a lot of open grass out there, you’re just trying to put the ball in play,” Gomes continued.

Díaz went for the strikeout in the same spot, this time coming in a little, but Gomes seemed to know what was coming and he yanked one over third baseman Jonathan Villar’s head to score Soto from third.

Fedde was grateful for the defensive help and a well-called game.

“For him to get guys out like that, I mean, he’s been something else,” said Fedde. “Those guys are just awesome with our pitching staff and we’re seeing the results.”