NEW YORK - Who would have guessed the cure for what ailed the Nationals lineup was ... Matt Harvey?
These are strange times indeed, because the Nationals just got really healthy facing a remarkably ineffective Harvey, pounding the one-time Mets ace for nine runs in only 2 2/3 innings to open up a commanding 9-1 lead in tonight's series finale.
Daniel Murphy's two-run homer in the first jumpstarted the Nats offense, but then a rapid flurry of scorched balls off Harvey in the top of the third sealed the deal.
Bryce Harper roped a 110-mph single to right for his first career hit in 22 at-bats against Harvey. Anthony Rendon drove a 106-mph liner to left-center that caromed off Michael Conforto's glove and led to two more runs. Wilson Ramos followed with his own two-run single, then Ben Revere finished off the seven-run rally with a triple past a lunging Yoenis Cespedes in center field.
As manager Terry Collins strolled to the mound, Harvey trudged back to the dugout and straight to the clubhouse, the large crowd at Citi Field booing his every step. The nine runs allowed were a career high for Harvey; the 2 2/3-inning start was the shortest of his career.
The prime billing for this game was the pitching matchup: Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg. Both hard-throwing right-handers who burst onto the scene as rookies, only to injure their elbows and require Tommy John surgery, then to return and follow different paths (Strasburg's September shutdown in 2012, Harvey's heavy workload into the World Series in 2015).
Early on, only Strasburg lived up to the bulling. The right-hander struck out the side in the bottom of the first on 17 pitches, getting Curtis Granderson on a 97 mph fastball, David Wright on a 98 mph fastball and Conforto on a 92 mph changeup.
The Mets did get a run off Strasburg in the second thanks to three singles, the last by Asdrubal Cabrera. But the recently re-signed hurler found his groove after that, making it through the third inning with only the one run surrendered and five batters retired via strikeout.
Update: It's still 9-1 after five innings, with Strasburg cruising along. He's got eight strikeouts through five, with a pitch count of 93. That's kind of a borderline number for him. If this is a closer game, obviously he takes the mound again for the sixth. But given the lopsided score, would Dusty Baker decide not to push it and just call it a night right now? We'll see.
Update II: It remains 9-1 after seven innings. Strasburg's night is done. He allowed one run on six hits, with one walk and 10 strikeouts in six innings. It's his fourth double-digit strikeout game in his last seven starts, his eighth consecutive start with at least seven strikeouts. Baker has made wholesale changes now, with backups Chris Heisey, Michael A. Taylor, Stephen Drew and Clint Robinson entering for the rest of this one.
Update III: It's over. Nats win 9-1, with nobody crossing the plate over the final six innings of this game. They take 2-of-3 from the Mets in this series. And the once-moribund lineup suddenly looks potent. Off to Miami for a weekend series with the Marlins.