With Ballpark Rocking, Mets Keep Rolling, Pulling Into a Tie for First


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Lucas Duda hitting a two-run homer during the third inning. His home run was the Mets’ third in a span of four batters, interrupted by a single by Yoenis Cespedes.

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Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Lucas Duda watched the ball soar into the night, his mouth agape, listening as the Citi Field crowd reacted. The fans had shot out of their seats, throwing their arms up as if they were on a roller coaster. As the ball ricocheted off the facing of the second deck, they roared.

The home run was the Mets’ third in a span of four batters. Duda, usually a reserved person, smiled widely as he crossed home plate, and the fans kept standing, roaring, chanting.

Wanting to make a statement in a pivotal series, the Mets played as complete a game as they had all season.

Noah Syndergaard pitched brilliantly for eight innings, recording nine strikeouts. The offense had the timely outburst, punctuated by Duda’s shot. Tyler Clippard pitched a clean ninth.

The result — a 5-2 victory Sunday — finished off a three-game sweep of the Nationals and pulled the Mets into a tie with Washington atop the National League East.

With about two months left to play, the Mets have somehow placed themselves firmly in the playoff hunt.

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“It’s so much fun to be a Met right now,” Syndergaard said.

The fans had arrived in droves, wearing viking hats for Syndergaard and carrying brooms, hoping for a sweep. The Mets had won on Friday on a game-ending home run by Wilmer Flores, two days after he had cried on the field, thinking he had been traded. They had won on Saturday after Duda had given them the lead in the eighth. Calling the games tense would be an understatement.

The results served as proof of how far the Mets had come. Just last year, they went 4-15 against the Nationals. This year, they had taken aim at Washington essentially since spring training. They had aligned their rotation so their top three starters would face the Nationals not long after the All-Star break. And all their effort came to fruition in the third inning Sunday.

In a span of five pitches, the Mets blitzed Jordan Zimmermann for five runs. Curtis Granderson smacked a two-run homer and looked into the ESPN camera. Daniel Murphy pulled the first pitch he saw for a solo home run to right field, too. Yoenis Cespedes singled. Then came Duda’s blast.

After the Mets acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson late last month, Collins held a meeting and told his offensive players, Hit, or you’re not playing. Duda appeared to take the message most to heart. From May until July 24, the day of the trade — a stretch in which the Mets were ravaged by injuries and inconsistent play — Duda had batted .209.

In the Mets’ eight games since, Duda has collected nine home runs — more than 40 percent of his season total (21). He drove in all three of the Mets’ runs in Saturday’s win, and his home run Sunday seemed to the break the Nationals’ spirit.

All the while, Duda insisted that he had not changed anything with his swing or his approach. This is baseball, he said; he was getting lucky, and balls were just dropping in.

Yeah, over the fence, one reporter joked.

“Just got lucky,” Duda said after the game.

He added: “I think it’s just a matter of, whether I’m 0 for 50, or 50 for 50, I’m still going to prepare the same way, attack it the same way. I’m still going to prepare and play the same way. Have fun. What happens, happens.”

The Mets were having so much fun they formed what looked like conga lines in their dugout, high-fiving each player as he scored, and executing elaborate handshakes.

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Noah Syndergaard walking off the mound in the eighth inning of the Mets 5-2 win on Sunday.

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Kathy Willens/Associated Press

For most of Sunday night, the Nationals simply could not catch up to Syndergaard’s pitches. After Anthony Rendon belted the fifth pitch he saw for a solo home run in the first, Syndergaard retired the next 13 Washington batters in order, pounding the strike zone with a vengeance. After another National reached base in the fifth, Syndergaard struck out Michael Taylor, a fellow rookie, on a 99-mile-per-hour fastball to end the inning.

Kevin Plawecki, Syndergaard’s rookie catcher, pumped his fist. This was what the Mets had hoped, that their young players would develop enough to help in a pennant race.

But Collins had tempered a bit of the excitement before the game when he reminded everyone that his young starters would eventually approach their inning limits — and that Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey could be shut down.

“We’re walking that fine line right now,” he said, “because their competitiveness is driving them to dominate, and when you dominate, you stay in games longer, which means you pitch more innings, which means you’re getting closer to those numbers. We’ve got to be careful.”

Collins does not have a solid number for the limits, just general ranges, he said. The Mets have a plan mapped out, and it will be easier to execute when the injured Steven Matz returns and they can use a six-man rotation. Until then, Collins may use a spot starter. He joked that the plan was locked away in his office and that only he had the combination to get to it.

Would everyone be available for the playoffs? “It’s too early to say,” Collins said.

“Right now,” he added, “I’m worried about getting there.”

The Nationals eventually caught up to Syndergaard, but he stayed composed, retiring Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth to strand two runners in the sixth. Gaining confidence, he seemed to turn his back just as Danny Espinosa watched a called third strike in the eighth.

“We’ve talked about his last maybe four or five starts, how fast he’s matured,” Collins said. “You don’t see that very often. He came up here, obviously, the big guy with the big arm — and probably not as much credit for knowing how to pitch.”

On his 109th pitch, with a runner on second, Syndergaard stared down Bryce Harper and fired a 100-m.p.h. fastball. Harper whiffed and lingered in the box watching as Syndergaard strutted off the mound and the crowd let out another roar.

INSIDE PITCH

The Mets placed KIRK NIEUWENHUIS on the 15-day disabled list with discomfort in his neck and shoulder. MICHAEL CONFORTO, whom the Mets had demoted to make room for Yoenis Cespedes but who had never left New York, rejoined the team, and TERRY COLLINS vowed to give him playing time, saying, “He wouldn’t be here if he weren’t going to play.”



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