July 31, 2014

Washington Nationals Game 17 Review: Twice for Bryce – Harper goes deep to help lift Nats over Mets 7-6

Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 with two home runs and three RBIs as the Washington Nationals (10-7) topped the New York Mets (8-8) 7-6 at Citi Field Saturday afternoon.

The Nats banked on the long ball early on to give Gio Gonzalez (1-1) his first lift of the game on Ian Desmond’s first-pitch homer to left in the second inning.

Danny Espinosa, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with a bruised right forearm, added a double to the effort with one out but neither Kurt Suzuki or Gonzalez himself could bat him in. Espinosa, at least, returned to true form after sitting out since getting hit by Atlanta Braves left-hander Paul Maholm in Sunday’s game.

Gonzalez continued to hold the Mets scoreless through the second and, in the top of the third, Harper provided his first two insurance runs for the day with a two-run smoker to left on an 83 MPH changeup to bat in Jayson Werth, who doubled with one out.

With Washington up 3-0, Gonzalez held his own through the third – retiring the side on a total of 13 pitches – but the Nats’ bats quieted in the top of the fourth… and then Gonzalez unraveled.

David Wright led off with a triple off Gonzalez’s hanging curve before John Buck walked and advanced to second on a grounder by Ike Davis. Then, Chad Tracy temporarily saved the shutout by pinning down Wright at home on a fielder’s choice for Marlon Byrd to make it two outs, no score.

But, Lucas Duda walked to load the bases and Collin Cowgill singled to left to bring home Buck and Byrd to make it 3-2 Nats.

Ruben Tejada pinch-hit for starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner to draw a walk before Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy hit back-to-back singles to knock in the tying and go-ahead runs.

The Mets officially batted through the order when Wright returned to the plate, but Gonzalez, at last, forced him to ground out to hold the Mets to a 5-3 lead into the fifth.

While the early pitching change may have kept alive the Mets’ rout in the fourth, it also handed back three runs to the Nats in the fifth as Aaron Laffey took the mound.

With two outs, Werth drew a walk off the 28-year-old left-hander and Harper doubled to set up Adam LaRoche, who delivered big-time with a three-run shot to left center on a 1-2 count.

Craig Stammen provided the Nats with two perfect innings of relief to keep alive their 6-5 lead. He struck out five of the six batters he faced and threw a total of 35 pitches.

In the bottom of the seventh, however, Ryan Mattheus didn’t have quite so much luck.

After forcing Turner to lead off with a grounder to Desmond, he gave up a single to Murphy, who found his way home on a two-out double by Buck to tie the game 6-6. Tyler Clippard earned the final out of the inning in Mattheus’s relief by striking out Ike Davis on three pitches to keep things tied into the eighth.

Then stepped to the plate, once more, Bryce Harper.

On the very first pitch he saw from Josh Edgin, Harper hit a monster shot to right center to put the Nats up 7-6.

Clippard went on to provide a full inning of hitless relief, complete with one walk and two strikeouts, before Rafael Soriano closed things out with a hitless ninth inning.

Rightfully so, Tyler Clippard earned the win – his third of the season already – and Edgin walked away with his first loss for the Mets.

 

THE GOOD:  With two home runs on Saturday, Bryce Harper is now hitting .371 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs. Not bad for a sophomore slump.

Craig Stammen also looked sharp Saturday – striking out five of six batters faced. Both Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano maintained control to ensure the Nats held onto an otherwise less-than-reassuring one-run lead.

THE BAD: After pitching three innings of shutout baseball, Gio Gonzalez fell apart in the fourth. After a short day’s work, Gonzalez earned a final line of 4.0 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K to bring his ERA to 5.85.\

After the game, Dave Johnson announced that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was being placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a strained left hamstring. Zim sat out both Friday and Saturday and underwent an MRI.

THE UGLY: Gonzalez’s curveball was downright scary at times – particularly when Gio nearly drilled Lucas Duda in the head. Kurt Suzuki got quite the workout behind the plate.

THE STATS: 7 R, 7 H, 5 BB, 7 K, 3 LOB, 2-for-4 RISP

NEXT GAME: Sunday, 1:10 p.m. at Citi Field. RHP Jordan Zimmerman (3-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP DIllon Gee (0-3, 8.36 ERA)

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