NEW YORK - The Nationals played solid, fundamental baseball, highlighted by aggressive base running and a shutdown bullpen, to drop the New York Mets 5-2 on a frigid night at Citi Field.
Wilmer Difo, Pedro Severino and Ryan Zimmerman contributed key run-scoring singles while Sammy Solís, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and Sean Doolittle supported Gio Gonzalez to secure the Nats third series win of the season and second win in a row.
Their record is back to .500 at 9-9. They go for the sweep Wednesday night with Tanner Roark to the hill. It is the first time this season the Mets have lost two in a row.
Manager Davey Martinez directed his club to always go for the extra base, but they also had a timely sacrifice bunt by Difo and three stolen bases. That strategy put pressure on Zack Wheeler and the rest of the Mets pitching staff.
Trea Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and a stolen base. Turner appreciated how the lineup took a ton of pitches and made contact most of the night.
“When you’re not hitting the best or driving the ball, you have to do those things,” Turner said of their aggressive strategy. “I think we’ve scrapped out a lot of at-bats. I looked up in the eighth inning and we had three strikeouts or something. That’s pretty hard to do with today’s pitchers. So, it was a good offensive game by us.”
Bryce Harper got the scoring going with a line drive sacrifice fly line drive to right field. Moisés Sierra also went 2-for-4 with a run scored. Zimmerman’s clutch RBI single made it 4-2 Nats in the seventh. It was his third hit with runners in scoring position in 22 at-bats this season.
“I truly like that we are doing the little things,” said manager Davey Martinez. “We are bunting when we need to bunt. We are sacrificing for the good of the team. That’s how you win games.”
Solís was able to close out the sixth for the starter Gonzalez (2-1), who lasted 5 1/3 innings, surrendering just two runs on eight hits, with five strikeouts and two walks. Solís struck out pinch-hitter Jose Reyes and forced Amed Rosario into a foul territory pop up to end the frame.
“Awesome. He did unbelievable,” Martinez said. “I like him. I like Solís both against right and left-handed hitters.”
Madson came on an inning early than usual, and Kintzler took care of the eighth. The duo combined to allow three hits, but also record six outs by striking out four batters with just one walk.
“They were awesome,” Martinez said. “They are workhorses. I want to take care of them but they know the situations they need to pitch in. I told them in the beginning, that one will get the seventh and one will get the eighth, not necessarily the same days and that’s how it works.
“I just thought the matchups were better for Madson in the seventh and if he gets out of that we have Kintzler in the eighth.”
Kintzler was pitching in his third consecutive game. In the three games combined, he allowed no runs with four strikeouts, allowing only one hit.
“A really gutty performance,” Doolittle said of Kintzler’s work. “He’s gone three days in a row. He kind of didn’t get off to the start he wanted to get off to, and he had to work through some stuff. Sometimes when you do that and you’re forced to really examine your mechanics or your mental approach, you can come out of it in a better spot.
“He worked really hard, and kind of threw himself into working on a lot of different things, and he’s thrown the ball really well for us. Tonight, it wasn’t just stuff that got him through that inning, but sometimes you have to almost will your way through it. It’s not always pretty, but there’s something to be said for being able to navigate an inning like that on your third day of work that’s impressive.”
Doolittle arrived in the ninth and the Mets had no fight for him. The left-hander struck out two of the three batters he faced for his third save.
Could this bullpen be a strength for this club? Before the big three arrived in the middle of last season, some felt the relievers that Nats had were a weakness.
“Those three guys in the back are good,” Martinez said. “You start seeing Solís doing what he does and the (Matt) Grace’s, and (Shawn) Kelley pitching really well. They are all contributing. It’s fun to watch them come in and do the job.”
The biggest takeaway from the second win in a row over the Mets was that the Nationals had accomplished what they set out to do in New York following a troubling 3-7 home stand. The Mets arrived in the series riding the best record in the National League and a 6-2 home record. They had swept the Nationals in D.C. last week.
But it’s only April, right? Plenty of time left.
Nope. Just listen to Doolittle about the importance of these two wins against the first place Mets:
“Really big. I know it’s early,” Doolittle said. “I know it’s the middle of April still, but for the stuff that we’ve already dealt with this season, coming off that homestand that we just had, to start off a long road trip like this is really, really good.”