NEW YORK -- After being swept by the Nationals in a three-game series in Washington from June 27-29, the Mets sat six games back in the National League East with a daunting 11-game homestand staring them down. Back at Citi Field, New York showed it was up for the challenge
NEW YORK -- After being swept by the Nationals in a three-game series in Washington from June 27-29, the Mets sat six games back in the National League East with a daunting 11-game homestand staring them down. Back at Citi Field, New York showed it was up for the challenge by sweeping the Cubs and then taking two of three from the Marlins to get back within three games of the National League East lead. On Sunday, though, the Nationals erased a week's worth of clawing by the Mets, defeating New York, 3-2, in the series finale to take three of four in the series.
"It's a very disappointing end to the homestand," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "But we have to get ready for next weekend, when we get into [Philadelphia], and that's when we really have to get it going on all cylinders and not look back."
The victory extended the Nationals' lead to six games heading into the All-Star break. They ended the break with 53 wins.
"It doesn't seem like it," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I told the guys, 'Let's finish strong.' … We beat a very good Mets team here. They are a little banged up. But you still have to win."
Daniel Murphy capped off a remarkable series against his former club by launching a two-run home run in the first. Jose Reyes responded, hitting a pair of solo home runs, but the Mets' offense couldn't get anything else going, recording only three other hits while putting just one runner in scoring position.
Gio Gonzalez earned the win after allowing only four hits over 5 2/3 innings, and Tanner Roark and Jonathan Papelbon combined to shut the door on the crucial series. It was the first time since May 18 that Gonzalez allowed fewer than three runs in an outing, as the right-hander had posted a 7.66 ERA over his last nine starts entering Sunday.
Steven Matz walked a career-high four batters and made a pair of mistakes -- the two-run blast from Murphy and a deep RBI single by Wilson Ramos in the third -- but limited the damage to three runs over seven innings in a losing effort.
"A home run is just one swing of the bat," Matz said. "I feel like I'm where I need to be. I just need to be a little bit more focused when I need to make a big pitch."
• Mets enter second half on heels of familiar foes
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Murph does it again: Murphy went 1-for-4 in the victory, but the one hit was a two-run homer in the first inning against Matz. It was his seventh home run against the Mets this season. He also has 21 RBIs against his former team.
"He is unbelievable," Baker said about Murphy. "He is even amazing some of our guys. You have a guy like that who is carrying you, you want other guys that we know that can pick it up in the second half. Boy, that was a very good weekend for us." More >
Back on top: On June 16 against the Pirates, Curtis Granderson launched his 17th leadoff homer as a Met, breaking Reyes' club record. The former Mets shortstop and current third baseman rejoined Granderson atop the record book with a leadoff blast -- his 17th in orange and blue -- that cut the Nationals' lead to 2-1 in the first. It was Reyes' first leadoff home run since June 25, 2014, when he was a member of the Blue Jays, and the 22nd of his career. More >
Gio's first half ends on positive note: Gonzalez allowed two home runs to Reyes and threw 108 pitches, but he ended up winning his fifth game of the year.
"Gio looked real good. Had it not been for Reyes, Gio would have done even better," Baker said. "He had a quite a few pitches in the first couple of innings. If he could cut those pitch counts down, he would go deeper in the game. We carried him as far as we could go."
Under control: Matz may be listed on the Mets' growing injury report with a bone spur in his left elbow, but on Sunday, he showed no signs of any ailment. The 25-year-old was tagged with his fourth straight losing decision -- dating back to June 7 -- but tossed his 10th quality start. For the first time since being diagnosed with the injury, Matz had a feel for his slider, tossing it nine times after throwing it just seven times in his previous three starts combined.
"When I realize that [the slider] has no effect on [my elbow], I'm more comfortable with it for sure," Matz said.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With today's win, the Nationals matched the 1994 Expos (54-33) for the most wins prior to the All-Star break in franchise history.
Reyes is the first Met other than Granderson to hit a leadoff home run since Mike Baxter opened an Aug. 30, 2012, matchup with the Phillies by homering off Kyle Kendrick at Citizens Bank Park.
Nationals: The Nationals take a four-day break, as Murphy, Bryce Harper, Ramos and Stephen Strasburg participate in the All-Star Game. They open the second half at home with a three-game series against the Pirates on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Mets:Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon will participate in the All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday, but the rest of the Mets' team will get a much-needed four-day break before returning to action on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET with a three-game series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
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Troy Provost-Heron is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.