SAN DIEGO -- Powered by Yoenis Cespedes' third homer in four games, Matt Harvey's first double-digit strikeout effort of the season and a magic act from reliever Antonio Bastardo, the Mets moved into sole possession of first place Sunday with a 4-3 win over the Padres.
Harvey gave the Mets six innings of two-run ball, also doubling high off Petco Park's center-field fence to spark a run-scoring rally in the sixth. The only Met to homer was Cespedes, whose third in four games gave him the National League lead with 30 RBIs.
"It's only May," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We've got a long way to go."
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Though the Padres scrapped and clawed on Christian Bethancourt's two-run homer in the fifth and a run-scoring balk in the seventh, they could not complete their comeback despite loading the bases with no outs in the eighth. Entering at that point, Bastardo struck out Derek Norris, popped up Melvin Upton Jr. and fanned Alexei Ramirez to maintain the lead.
"It's on us as a team, collectively, to pick that run up, to pick multiple runs up,'' Padres manager Andy Green said. "And we didn't do it.''
Combined with the Cubs' four-game sweep of the Nationals, the Mets' win moved them for the first time this season into a familiar perch: first place in the NL East, where they sat for almost all of last August and September.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bastardo's Houdini act: The Padres seemed primed at least to tie the game, and perhaps to do much more when they loaded the bases with three consecutive singles off Mets relievers Jerry Blevins and Addison Reed in the eighth. But Bastardo retired the next three, eliciting a huge fist pump from catcher Kevin Plawecki as Ramirez fanned to end the inning.
"That was the key to the game," Cespedes said. "If it wasn't for him, I don't think we would have won the ballgame." More >
• Fruitless 8th leaves Padres perplexed
Balk this way: The Padres pulled to within 4-3 in the seventh when Bethancourt opened with a ground-ball double which went off second baseman Wilmer Flores. After advancing to third, Bethancourt scored on a balk when reliever Jim Henderson slipped while delivering a pitch to pinch-hitter Alex Dickerson.
Strikeout machine: For the first time this season, Harvey's velocity regularly spiked up to 97 mph. So it was little surprise that the strikeouts followed. Whiffing the side in the first, Harvey struck out six of the first eight batters he faced, finishing with 10. It was his first double-digit strikeout game of the year and the 11th of his career.
"It's definitely a difference from my last couple starts," Harvey said. "I felt good on the mound and executed pitches when I needed to."
Cash doesn't carry: Padres starter Andrew Cashner tried to swipe his left hand across the plate, attempting to score from first base on Jon Jay's two-out double in the fifth. He was called out and after a 1-minute, 42-second review, the verdict was confirmed.
Cashner's sprint from first to third came with a price. Green said both of Cashner's hamstrings locked up after that, which forced him from the game the following inning. But Green said the big righty is fine.
"No limitations going forward, no issues at all," Green said. "It just wasn't smart for him to keep going after that run." More >
The Padres did score twice in the inning on Bethancourt's two-run homer that Statcast™ tracked at 434 feet, slicing the Mets' advantage to 3-2.
"He kept saying I need to hit the weight room." -- Harvey, on Bartolo Colon, who homered Saturday, then razzed his teammate for not having enough power to clear the fence with his sixth-inning double
"It's just one of those baseball things. I don't think anyone in the dugout is saying, 'It's the last game of the series and we are not going to win.'" -- Green, on the Padres going 0-10 in the finale of all 10 series
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Harvey's outing was not without his usual middle-inning hiccup. The right-hander owns a 1.61 ERA with a 27:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the first through fourth innings this season, but an 11.25 ERA with an 8:9 strikeout-to walk ratio in innings five and six. He has yet to pitch into the seventh this season.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Ramirez invoked the now-defunct neighborhood play in the first, when he swept his foot in the area of the second-base bag to start an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Collins challenged the call, but umpires did not find enough evidence to overturn it.
Green spent his challenge three innings later, unsuccessfully arguing that Cashner was safe at home on Jay's would-be game-tying double. Umpires also checked to make sure that Plawecki legally blocked home plate, which he did.
Padres: San Diego opens a seven-game road trip Monday against the Cubs. Righty Cesar Vargas (0-1, 1.10 ERA), who has been solid since being called up to replace Robbie Erlin (elbow) in the rotation, will oppose lefty Jon Lester (3-1, 1.58). First pitch at Wrigley Field is at 5:05 p.m. PT.
Mets: The Mets will cruise up the Pacific Coast for another four-game series starting Monday in Los Angeles. Lefties Steven Matz and Scott Kazmir will square off in a 10:10 p.m. ET series opener at Dodger Stadium.
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