The Nationals already had this key series won after back-to-back victories the last two nights. But they weren't satisfied with that, so tonight they went for the jugular and succeeded, riding another dominant performance from Max Scherzer and a pair of Daniel Murphy homers to a 4-2 win and a series sweep of the Mets.
Scherzer allowed just two hits over 7 1/3 sparkling innings, retiring 18 batters in a row at one point and striking out 10 to lead the way. Murphy accounted for three of the Nationals' four runs of support via two homers. And Dusty Baker played the matchups late, using three relievers to get through a dicey eighth inning. James Loney hit a two-run home run off Shawn Kelley in the ninth, but it was too little too late.
Winners of four straight, the Nationals have opened up a 5 1/2-game lead over the Marlins, six games over the third-place Mets, who are reeling from injuries and a lineup that has gone silent.
New York scored four quick runs off Joe Ross in the first three innings of Monday night's series opener. After that, they failed to cross the plate once in the next 23 innings before the two-run shot.
The performance of the Nationals' pitching staff certainly played a role in that, from Ross' bounceback Monday night to Lucas Giolito's impressive debut Tuesday to Scherzer's dominant outing tonight.
The matchup against an injury-plagued Mets lineup that added leadoff man Curtis Granderson to the growing list with an early-evening scratch seemed to favor Scherzer going in. And that's exactly how it played out once he took the mound.
Scherzer was in complete control from the outset, retiring the side in the top of the first on 14 pitches, two of the outs coming via strikeouts.
His lone hiccup came in the top of the second, when Asdrubal Cabrera sent a one-out single to right and Kelly Johnson followed with a walk. Scherzer calmly pitched his way out of the jam, though, striking out Brandon Nimmo and Rene Rivera to end the inning.
And then the right-hander turned on the cruise control. He retired the side in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He reached double digits in strikeouts for the seventh time this season, the 43rd time in his career. And with his pitch count still manageable, he was given the opportunity to keep going.
It helped that the Nationals staked Scherzer to an early 2-0 lead. Murphy's solo homer just inside the right field foul pole in the bottom of the second got things started. Jayson Werth's sacrifice fly to center one inning later brought home another run for the home team.
That 2-0 lead held steady most of the night, including during the top of the eighth, when Baker decided to pull Scherzer with one out and a man on base and turn to relievers Oliver Perez, Blake Treinen and Kelley to pitch out of the jam.
Murphy then added a big insurance blast, a two-run homer to right that made it 4-0. It was Murphy's fourth homer against his former team this season and his 14th overall, matching his career high even though this was only the Nationals' 79th game of the year.
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