WASHINGTON -- Given a chance to push the last man standing against Jacob deGrom out of the National League Cy Young race, the Mets at least prevented Max Scherzer from changing the texture of it.Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce hit back-to-back home runs on Thursday, ensuring that Scherzer -- the
WASHINGTON -- Given a chance to push the last man standing against Jacob deGrom out of the National League Cy Young race, the Mets at least prevented Max Scherzer from changing the texture of it.
Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce hit back-to-back home runs on Thursday, ensuring that Scherzer -- the only NL pitcher who still had a chance at reaching 20 wins -- would not reach that mark. His no-decision was long in the books by the time Jose Lobaton hit a 12th-inning sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 5-4 win over the Nationals.
"We wanted to put as many up as we could against him," Conforto said.
A shade less than his typical dominant self in recent weeks, Scherzer entered the night 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA over his last four starts. That bit of imperfection allowed deGrom, who is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA over the same stretch, to take command of the Cy Young race. In a recent, informal poll of MLB.com's Baseball Writers' Association of America members, deGrom tallied 30 of 33 first-place votes.
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He was an interested observer Thursday as Scherzer cracked for Conforto's two-run homer in the third inning and Bruce's ensuing solo shot. But Scherzer, in a style befitting of deGrom, did not crumble. Instead, the defending NL Cy Young Award winner retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, finishing with 13 strikeouts. Scherzer's 290 whiffs are a Nationals record, positioning him to become the third pitcher in the last 16 years to reach 300.
"We kept saying, 'Keep on him, keep on him, keep on him,'" Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "Unfortunately, it's Scherzer, and that's not easy to do. To do what we did was pretty good. To keep on scoring off a guy like that is pretty tough."
No matter what deGrom achieves over his final two starts, he will not come close to matching that figure. But deGrom's 1.78 ERA stands three-quarters of a run better than Scherzer's 2.57 mark, offering the strongest argument in his favor. His penultimate start will come Friday in Washington.
"You're aware of it, but that's not why you go out there and pitch," Scherzer said of personal milestones and awards. "You go out there and pitch to win. I wanted to come in today and win a ballgame and unfortunately, we lost. … For me, those are milestones, and I don't pitch for those. I pitch to win."
That Scherzer can no longer reach 20 wins was as much a credit to Thursday's Mets starter, Jason Vargas, as it was to Conforto and Bruce. Holding the Nationals scoreless over the game's first five innings, Vargas did not crack until Trea Turner singled and Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer in the sixth. Two batters later, Vargas was out of the game, having allowed just one other hit.
"For the most part, I was able to keep the ball down," Vargas said.
The Mets added some insurance on Bruce's RBI single off Matt Grace in the eighth, but could not hold the two-run lead. After Anthony Swarzak allowed both men he faced in the bottom of the inning to reach base, Rendon hit an RBI groundout and Juan Soto followed with a game-tying double.
Four innings later, the Mets finally broke through again versus Washington's bullpen. After Amed Rosario hit a leadoff single, a pair of walks -- one unintentional, the other intentional -- loaded the bases. Lobaton followed with a sacrifice fly, and Paul Sewald nailed down the final three outs in the bottom of the inning.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Rookie test:Daniel Zamora, at least, did his job in the eighth -- if only barely. After Swarzak put two men on base with no outs, the Mets called on Zamora, a rookie with 14 strikeouts over his first seven career innings. Bryce Harper fouled off seven pitches before Zamora, on his ninth offering, induced a flyout to the warning track.
His exhale was short-lived. With Gsellman in the game, Zamora watched from the bench as the Nationals tied things on Rendon's groundout and Soto's double to force extra innings.
"Harper kept on fouling them off -- a great at-bat by Harper," Callaway said. "But [Zamora] kept on sticking with his strength, didn't give in, and got one off the end [of the bat]. It was a little bit of a scare, but in the end, he executed a pitch."
Conforto's long ball was his 29th opposite-field shot among 75 career homers. Among big leaguers with at least 40 homers since 2015, Conforto ranks fourth in opposite-field percentage behind Eric Hosmer, Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Several days of heavy rain wreaked havoc on the Nationals Park outfield. When Adrian Sanchez attempted to field Jeff McNeil's double in shallow right in the first inning, he kicked up a sizable divot.
Four innings later, when Mets left fielder Dominic Smith made a diving grab to rob Sanchez of a hit, another chunk of turf dislodged from the ground. Smith and center fielder Brandon Nimmo spent several moments trying to piece things together before returning to their respective positions.
Incensed after home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn ruled that McNeil offered on a bunt attempt in the 10th inning, Callaway earned a quick ejection as he burst out of the dugout to protest. It was the first-year manager's second ejection of the season.
"I thought it was two [bad calls] in a row to put our hitter in a bad situation, down 0-2," Callaway said. "I just kind of lost it."
HE SAID IT
"I don't know if there was a point in time where I was rounding the bases and I was thinking about Jake. But when we look up and we're leading, 3-0, against Scherzer, and we still have time to put up more runs against him, we're definitely feeling good about that. We're definitely cognizant of it before the game and after the game, but during the game, we're just up there competing." -- Conforto, on deGrom's Cy Young quest
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
After singling in the 10th, Harper stole second base and was called safe after beating Kevin Plawecki's throw. The Mets challenged the call, and after a crew-chief review the call was overturned.
With Scherzer's start in the books, deGrom will try to remain the presumptive NL Cy Young favorite when he takes the mound for a 7:05 p.m. ET game Friday at Nationals Park. He has just two outings remaining: one on Friday opposite Nats right-hander Joe Ross, and one next week against the Braves.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.