Nats bounce right back in first, cruise to win over Mets

If you turned off tonight’s game after four batters, disgusted by what you saw from the Nationals from a pitching and defense perspective, well, you certainly were justified in being disgusted.

You also wound up missing quite the turnaround by the home club, which managed to come all the way back (and then some) before the first inning even ended.

Yep, after surrendering three runs to the Mets in the top of the first, the Nationals stormed back to score five in the bottom of the inning, then three more in the bottom of the second to take an 8-3 lead that would hold up for the rest of the night.

It was an unexpected, but welcome, comeback in rapid fashion for the Nats, who in the process snapped a nine-game home losing streak that stretched all the way back to April 19, when they eked out a 1-0 win over the Diamondbacks.

"We kept everybody together, we kept the energy," right fielder Juan Soto said. "It always feels good winning games like that and coming from behind. We showed what we have, and it feels great."

And it was achieved thanks to an opportunistic lineup that put men on base for a couple of feared sluggers, not to mention a journeyman starter who shook off a disastrous opening act to his evening to shut down the Mets before handing it over to his bullpen for the rest.

Anyone who gave up on this one in the top of the first clearly blew it, but it would be hard to find fault with the logic given how things looked for the home team at that early juncture. Draw up a nightmare scenario to begin a game, and this was pretty close.

It all started with the Mets doing the little things right and the Nats doing none of them right. When Aaron Sanchez got ahead of leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo in the count 1-2, third baseman Maikel Franco shifted over to the right side of the infield, thinking there was no way Nimmo would try to steal a bunt single with two strikes on him. Except he basically did, taking a short swing and poking Sanchez’s outside pitch right through the vacant hole at third, then hustling his way into a double.

Moments later, Starling Marte did put down a bunt, and Franco (playing from his normal position) threw the ball away trying to make a barehanded play, allowing Nimmo to score from second. And when Pete Alonso crushed a Sanchez fastball deep to left, the Mets had themselves a 3-0 lead only four batters into the game, and the Nats had themselves a disaster on their hands.

"I told the guys: Hey, just chip away," manager Davey Martinez said. "Just try to score. Come back with a score right away. And they scored a lot more. It was awesome."

Was it ever. Wouldn’t you know the Nationals flipped the switch in the bottom of the first and not only got the three runs back but added two more for good measure.

They got the first two on a first-of-the-season moment for Soto: His first homer with a man on base. Soto’s 411-foot laser to right-center not only scored himself but leadoff man César Hernández as well, giving the big slugger his seventh homer of the season but his first that wasn’t a solo shot.

"At the end of the day, any way I'm helping the team," Soto said. "For me, it's kind of tough, because you want to help the team as much as you can. But it's part of being a (No. 2) hitter. I just kept battling, kept doing my thing."

The Nationals didn’t let up after Soto's homer. They got a double by Yadiel Hernandez, with third base coach Gary DiSarcina holding up Nelson Cruz at third rather than risk having the team’s eighth runner of the year thrown out at the plate, then an RBI single by Keibert Ruiz to tie the game. Add a sacrifice fly by Franco and an RBI single by Dee Strange-Gordon, and just like that the Nationals led 5-3 after one frantic inning.

And they still weren’t done. The Nats kept the pressure on Mets starter Tylor Megill in the bottom of the second, putting two on with one out for Cruz. The 41-year-old designated hitter has finally been showing signs of life since the weekend in Anaheim, and now here it all came together on one mighty swing. Cruz launched a Megill changeup some 436 feet to left-center, reaching the picnic tables beyond the red seats for his fourth home run of the season and remarkably an 8-3 lead in only the second inning.

"Just trying to swing at strikes and make sure I get the right pitches to hit," Cruz said. "It was nice to see the whole lineup come back after down early in the game, and Sanchez threw the ball amazing."

This is true. A comfortable lead back in his hands, Sanchez got down to work and made up for his early mistakes with a sustained run of success. The right-hander retired 15-of-17 batters following the Alonso homer and was poised to keep going until Alonso’s sixth-inning comebacker struck him on the base of the palm of his left hand and forced him from the game.

"I mean, when you get down like that, put your team in a rut, you just try to pitch to zeros, really," said Sanchez, who was diagnosed with a slight bone bruise but said he should be fine to make his next start. "They did a great job of (rallying) ... but it kind of gave me some room to just go out there and kind of pitch my game, really. Obviously, you always want to pitch to zeros, but when you have that kind of lead and you go out there, it kind of takes some of that off. They picked me up. It was a great team win."

Sanchez's abrupt exit proved to be no problem, because Austin Voth, Victor Arano and Paolo Espino took care of the final 3 2/3 innings, joining forces to keep the Mets from scoring at any point after their first four batters of the night and making anyone who turned it off way back then eating some crow for a late-night snack.

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