NEW YORK -- Baseball players often try to hide their emotions, but Daniel Murphy doesn't abide by that rule. After slugging his sixth homer and driving in his 18th and 19th runs of the season against his old team Saturday night, the former Met couldn't walk through the Citi Field visitors' dugout without slapping double high-fives and exchanging celebratory howls with his Nationals teammates. And, at the end of the line, he cracked a hint of a smile.
Murphy's three-hit performance, combined with a sterling outing from recent National League All-Star team addition Max Scherzer, powered Washington to a 6-1 win over the Mets, extending its NL East lead over New York to five games.
"He's pumped up to play against us and show us we made a mistake," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Murphy. "It's human nature."
Murphy wasn't thinking about getting payback against his former team. All he thought about was winning the series.
"Right now, we put ourselves in a position to win the series. The Mets are a really good division opponent," Murphy said. "We'll come out with Gio [Gonzalez] on the mound [Sunday] and hopefully we can win a series. Anything I've done, it's exciting because [the Mets] are a really good club."
Scherzer overcame a bumpy first inning to cruise to his 10th win of the season. Going into the game, the right-hander had held righties to a .182 on-base percentage and a .159 batting average, which both led the NL. Collins countered with a starting lineup fielding just one right-handed batter, but the extent of the Mets' damage against Scherzer was a first-inning sac fly off the bat of Neil Walker. It was an unearned run that was the product of a wacky throw from left fielder Jayson Werth that allowed Jose Reyes to advance to third on a single by Curtis Granderson.
"I just went back and started executing pitches," Scherzer said. "It took a couple of innings to find my rhythm, get the mentality that was going to work for me the whole night. It wasn't until the fourth inning when I found it. I worked with [Wilson Ramos] on executing to both sides of the plate and mixing in all the offspeed pitches when I needed to. I avoided a big inning, especially when our offense picked up."
Asdrubal Cabrera embodied the Mets' frustration after he ripped a line drive right into Clint Robinson's glove to end the sixth. He flipped his bat skyward, snatched his helmet and slammed it toward the ground. Logan Verrett, Matt Harvey's de facto replacement, slogged through 6 2/3 innings. With Harvey having elected Friday to undergo season-ending surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, Verrett allowed five earned runs on four hits and five walks.
"Everybody I walked tonight scored -- can't let that happen," Verrett said. "I was happy that I was able to get us almost [through] the seventh inning."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Haunting his former team: Murphy has six homers and 19 RBIs in 12 games against New York this season. The 19 RBIs are the third most among NL players vs. a single opponent in 2016. Murphy hit an RBI single in the third inning, an RBI double in the fifth and a two-run homer in the seventh, falling a triple shy of the cycle.
"He is not missing much," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "His concentration level is beyond compare right now. I think this cool weather helped him. It seemed like he was dragging some at home [because of the hot weather]. We get to New York and we expect more hot weather. It cooled down. It seemed like he found his strength again." More >
Unsuccessful audition: Verrett got the first call to replace Harvey, but he never got into a groove against the division foe, pushing his season ERA to 4.34. He looked strong in a perfect first inning, but Washington got to him from there. With the timetable for right-hander Zack Wheeler's return uncertain, the Mets might have to stick with Verrett for the foreseeable future. More >
Mad Max: After the first inning, during which he allowed one unearned run, Scherzer allowed two hits and struck out seven batters in the next six frames. No Mets reached scoring position after the first inning against Scherzer.
"It's the age-old story. When you've got a great pitcher on the mound, if you can get him, you better get him early," Collins said. "If you don't, and they settle in, you're in trouble. That's exactly what happened today. We let him off the hook in the first inning and he settled in. He was Max Scherzer from there."
Offensive renaissance? The Mets seemed to be turning a corner offensively after a rough June during which they scored a Major League-worst 86 runs. They had topped the nine-run threshold three times in July and scored fewer than three runs only twice. But the Mets managed only four hits, two of which came from Alejandro De Aza, who has primarily served as a pinch-hitter this season.
"He was just laughing and being Murph, having a good time, having fun playing this game like he did over here,"
-- Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, on Murphy reacting to boos from the fans at Citi Field in the first inning
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the win, the Nationals have recorded their highest win total prior to the All-Star break with 53. The 2005 Nationals went 52-36 in the season's first half before finishing 81-81.
Nationals: Gonzalez will pitch the last game before the All-Star break on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. He has struggled over his past nine starts, allowing at least three runs in each of them. One of the lefty's worst starts of the season came the last time he faced the Mets on May 23, when they roughed him up for seven runs in five innings.
Mets: Left-hander Steven Matz takes the hill for the Mets in the series finale at Citi Field. Matz's last win came in his last start against the Nationals on May 25. Matz, who tossed seven innings of two-run ball his last time out, has been pitching through a bone spur in his throwing elbow.
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