They are now six games behind the first-place Mets. They have three more chances to shave that gap this weekend. The Nationals (31-35) were led by Erick Fedde, their hottest starter, and scratched across a run when it mattered most.
“This team knows what it takes. We’ve been in the big stage and everything,” said Gomes, who also threw out two runners trying to steal second, hit a grand slam earlier this week and was doused by a mix of water and Gatorade during a postgame interview, thanks to Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell. “We know kind of the times to try to get hot. We’re playing really good baseball right now; our pitchers are doing a tremendous job. It’s just that sometimes one hit does it.”
By logging seven frames on 100 pitches, Fedde ran a scoreless-innings streak to 20, going back to May 11. He held the Mets to two hits, their total for the game. Fedde missed close to a month after he tested positive for the coronavirus despite being vaccinated. But he rediscovered his groove without a hitch and has been an illustration of the Nationals’ recent success: an unlikely key for a staff that has carried its weight and then some while Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris are sidelined with injuries.
For 5⅓ innings, Fedde traded zeros with Mets starter Joey Lucchesi. For the next 1⅔, Fedde did so with Miguel Castro out of New York’s bullpen. The Nationals struck out in four of their first five at-bats. They stranded the bases loaded in the third — a familiar lapse — when Trea Turner grounded into a rally-killing double play. Then Gomes bounced into a double play to end the fourth. Zimmerman did so to end the sixth.
The Nationals had four hits and nothing to show for them. But the Mets had just the two because Fedde worked around some early command issues, finding a rhythm with his sinker and a sharp curve. He walked Pete Alonso on four pitches to begin the second. He then walked Mason Williams to begin the third. In the past, those walks turned into spiked pitch counts and damage on the scoreboard. This year, though, or at least in the past month, Fedde has calmed his outings instead of folding under the pressure. And this time, his catcher helped in many ways.
After Williams walked in the third, Lucchesi couldn’t put down a pair of bunt attempts. So Williams tried to steal second, and Gomes threw a rope to the bag, making it so Turner’s glove didn’t move before applying the tag. Two innings later, Luis Guillorme punched a leadoff single and took off running against Fedde and Gomes. But Gomes threw him out from his knees, with Josh Harrison swinging his glove to brush Guillorme a beat ahead of his foot reaching the base.
“Just one of those games where I felt like I had a ton of help, too,” Fedde said. “Yan was phenomenal throwing guys out. Trea made a couple nice plays. ... Plus, we’re playing the first-place Mets. We all know we need to win these games.”
In the seventh, Fedde put Dominic Smith on first with a walk. Lefty Sam Clay warmed in the bullpen, and he kept warming as Alonso flied out to right for the first out. Fedde was at 96 pitches with Billy McKinney, a left-handed batter, stepping in. Manager Dave Martinez had a good matchup with Clay, a sinkerballer who gets a lot of grounders. Yet Martinez stuck with Fedde and had his faith rewarded.
McKinney chopped out to second, Smith moved up, and Martinez chose to intentionally walk Guillorme. The next batter, catcher Tomás Nido, had struck out twice on Fedde’s curve. But in their third matchup, he stalked a first-pitch curve, one hanging over the middle of the plate, and smacked a grounder at Jordy Mercer. The third baseman caught it, stepped once and fired a throw across the diamond for the out. Fedde smacked his glove, the crowd noise growing around him.
“A lot of my career has been being called up for somebody being down. And I think this is the first time I can really say I feel like I’ve fulfilled that role,” Fedde said. “So for me, that’s part of self-accomplishment, something I’m happy with and something I’m sure the coaching staff and everyone above that was hoping for. For that to finally happen, it’s nice, and I just want to continue to do that.”
The Nationals still needed a run after he exited. They still needed Kyle Finnegan to pitch a clean eighth and Brad Hand to pitch a clean ninth to set up that run. And when it came, once Gomes ripped that high-and-tight fastball to grass, it was only because of Soto’s and Zimmerman’s at-bats before him. Soto had thought he walked on Díaz’s fifth pitch, a low-and-away slider, but Kerwin Danley called it strike two. Soto then fouled away a low-and-in slider, then a 100-mph fastball, then flipped his bat once he walked on a borderline slider, staring at Danley.
Next was Zimmerman, the Nationals’ 36-year-old first baseman, who battled to a full count, fouled away an outside slider — a pitch well off the plate — and punched a soft single through the right side. Gomes was then asked to play hero and did.
“Wins are coming, wins are piling on, and we know this series that we got coming up,” Gomes said, nodding to Saturday’s doubleheader and another contest Sunday. “It’s just very good vibes right now.”
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