By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The New York Mets, desperate to avoid a repeat of last year's infamous slide, fended off the Washington Nationals, 9-7, last night, restoring a semblance of order to the baseball universe, at least for one night.
The Nationals, despite being 27 games out of contention, made things difficult for the pennant-chasing Mets, who had to burn through five relievers and make two outstanding defensive plays to get the last six outs of the game. With that, the Mets took the third game of the four-game series to end a three-game skid.
"I like the way we swung the bats," said Nationals Manager Manny Acta, who watched as Washington nearly rallied from a six-run deficit. "You score that many runs, most of the days, you get a good pitching effort, you're going to win the ballgame."
Last season, the Mets lost 12 of their last 17 games to squander what had been a seven-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies, with five of the losses coming against the Nationals. And this week, it seemed the Nationals were at it again.
Talk of another New York meltdown intensified after Washington won the first two games of the series, defeats that cost New York its lead in the NL East, again to the Phillies. But last night, before 25,019 on another comfortable evening at Nationals Park, New York looked determined to alter what increasingly appeared to be its fate.
Slugger Carlos Beltrán hit two of New York's four homers and knocked in three runs to lead the Mets, who stayed a half-game behind the Phillies, who also won last night. The Mets also maintained a half-game lead in the wild-card race over the Milwaukee Brewers, also winners last night.
"They scored enough runs, they kept coming," Acta said.
New York led 8-3 entering the seventh inning when Elijah Dukes blasted a two-run homer to bring Washington within striking distance.
In the eighth inning, Beltrán answered with his second homer, this one into the left field stands, to push his team's lead to four runs, a cushion large enough for even New York's shaky bullpen to preserve. Still, the Nationals put the Mets to the test.
"We are firm believers that until the last out, we've got a chance," said Nationals catcher Wil Nieves, who finished with a career-high three hits.
In the eighth, the Nationals put a scare into much-maligned Mets reliever Aaron Heilman, who allowed hits to Nieves and pinch hitter Aaron Boone. But Mets relievers Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith combined to retire the next three hitters, with the help of Beltrán, who ran down Ryan Zimmerman's shot to deep center field to end the inning.
"That's routine for him," Acta said of Beltrán.
Washington gave New York another scare in the ninth when Lastings Milledge and Dukes reached to begin the inning. In came lefty Pedro Feliciano, who quickly dispatched the first two hitters he faced, the last on Carlos Delgado's diving stop at first.
Still, Nieves brought the Nationals within two, driving a two-run single to right.
But former National Luis Ayala retired pinch hitter Roger Bernadina to give the Mets the victory.
Nationals starter Shairon Martis took the mound hoping for his first major league win after near misses in his first two starts. Martis, 21, had only allowed three earned runs in his first 10 big league innings, giving the Nationals a reason for hope.
Instead, the Mets subjected Martis to the most difficult outing of his young career.
Even in the bullpen during warmups, Martis said his fastball was "all over the place," and the result showed during the game.
Mets leadoff hitter José Reyes launched a solo home run to start the game. And two batters later, Delgado added a solo homer to give the Mets a 2-0 advantage in the first inning. The onslaught continued in the third, when the Mets scored four runs to take a 6-1 lead.
By the fourth, Martis was out of the game, allowing six runs in just three innings. Of the five hits Martis allowed, three were home runs.
"I think I was a little too wild," said Martis, who pitched for the Netherlands in the Olympics. "I missed my spots. The ball was moving a lot."
The Nationals, meanwhile, failed to do much against Mets right-hander Brandon Knight, the U.S. Olympic team member who prevailed in the unusual matchup of Beijing Olympians.