WASHINGTON -- The Mets could have been a nice story for a week: the National League East's challengers, finally healthy, rallying out to a strong beginning. Yet it would have meant little had they flown down to enemy territory and fallen flat, succumbing to a Nationals club that has owned
WASHINGTON -- The Mets could have been a nice story for a week: the National League East's challengers, finally healthy, rallying out to a strong beginning. Yet it would have meant little had they flown down to enemy territory and fallen flat, succumbing to a Nationals club that has owned this division for two years running.
Instead, the Mets silenced a sellout crowd at Nationals Park, winning an 8-2 game on Thursday to claim, at least temporarily, a share of the NL's best record. Michael Conforto returned from the disabled list to hit a two-run homer in his first game since August, Jay Bruce added a game-breaking grand slam and Jacob deGrom wriggled out of multiple jams to improve to 2-0.
Grand slams mean 40% off pizza
"Anytime you can come in and beat a team of this caliber is huge," Bruce said. "It's going to be like this all year. There's going to be big series. I hope to continue playing in them and have them mean something every time we play. Everyone in here's goal is to be playing meaningful baseball when we get to September, and to do that, we've got to beat these guys."
Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg lasted six innings but gave up homers to Yoenis Cespedes and Conforto, as well as a run-scoring balk.
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"I definitely want two pitches back," Strasburg said. "Cespedes is a low-ball hitter and I didn't throw it where I wanted to throw it. It was a ball, but good piece of hitting. It is what it is. And obviously Conforto, I missed my spot there again too."
Still, the Nationals were in the game until the sixth, when deGrom escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam without allowing a run. Half an inning later, Bruce crushed a 408-foot grand slam off reliever Brandon Kintzler to give the Mets their seventh win in 20 meetings against the Nats since the start of last season.
"I think we're where we expected to be," Conforto said. "We definitely had high expectations coming out of spring. I don't know what's next. … We've just got to continue to have performances like we did today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Turner tossed as deGrom gets out of a jam: The Nationals had a prime scoring chance against deGrom in the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with nobody out after a leadoff single from Brian Goodwin and then back-to-back walks to Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper. But deGrom battled back to retire the next two batters and then got a called third strike against Trea Turner to escape the jam. Turner disagreed with the location of the third strike, which appeared to be outside, and voiced his displeasure with home-plate umpire Doug Eddings until he earned his first ejection of his career.
"He didn't like the call, I guess," deGrom said. "I felt like it was a pretty good pitch. It was 0-2. I don't want it on the plate. It was closer to the plate than I actually wanted it."
Bruce crushes grand slam: Increasing the sting for the Nationals of not scoring in the bottom of the sixth, Bruce took the air out of a sold-out crowd at Nationals Park in the seventh when he launched a grand slam off Kintzler. Kintzler had Bruce down, 0-2, before he worked the count to 3-2 and swatted a grand slam into the stands in right-center field.
"Obviously 0-2 is not where you want to be after the first two pitches, but it happens," Bruce said. "I just tried to stick with my approach. I had a pretty good understanding of what he was going to try to do to me. I was able to work back and give myself a chance down 3-2, and I got a pitch I didn't miss."
"I made a joke that his first two at-bats were his rehab, and his third at-bat he was ready."
-- Bruce, on Conforto, who struck out and hit into a double play in his first two plate appearances before his home run
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
DeGrom improved to 19-8 with a 1.97 ERA in 40 career daytime starts. That ERA is the best of any qualified starting pitcher dating back to 1913.
With six strikeouts over three shutout innings, the Mets' bullpen has punched out 34 batters in 24 1/3 innings. That unit ranks second in the Majors with a 1.11 ERA.
Particularly impressive have been Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, who combined for four outs in the Mets' victory. Both converted starting pitchers, Gsellman and Lugo have fanned 12 of the 24 batters they've faced this season.
"They add a whole other component to our bullpen, just like Conforto adds a component to our lineup," manager Mickey Callaway said. "It's a good two weapons to have."
Following an off-day Friday, Steven Matz will return to the mound Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET looking to improve upon the four-inning, 89-pitch outing he submitted in his debut.
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Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.