FINAL: Nationals 7, Mets 2
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: In Game 3 of their crazy week facing some of the best pitching the NL has to offer, the Nationals stared down the Dark Knight of Gotham and for the first time in a long time lived to tell about it.
The Nats got to Matt Harvey for two runs in the first, then three more in the third, pouncing on the Mets ace to beat him for the first time since his rookie season in 2012. Yunel Escobar's RBI single brought home the night's first run, then his heads-up baserunning move (getting into a rundown and buying enough time for Bryce Harper to score) brought home another. Clint Robinson's 2-run double in the third added to the onslaught and handed Gio Gonzalez a 5-0 lead.
Gonzalez labored at times and could only make it through six innings, allowing two runs, while throwing 107 pitches. But the Nationals bullpen clamped down and didn't let the Mets get back in it. Matt Thornton retired the side, Casey Janssen tossed another scoreless eighth and — after Ian Desmond tagged a much-needed, 2-run homer for insurance — Drew Storen finished it off in a non-save situation.
And so after losing games to Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke over the weekend, the Nationals were able to take down an ace this time. And because of that, they have opened up a 3-game lead over the Mets in the NL East.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: If opponents are going to pitch around Harper, the guys hitting behind him are going to have to deliver big hits. And then did Monday night. Escobar, hitting cleanup to offer some Bryce protection, followed Harper's 1st-inning walk with an RBI single to left to get the Nats on the board. Two innings later, after Harper again walked to leave two men on base, Robinson roped a double to deep center field, bringing home two more runs. That kind of production from the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the lineup is critical for this team, especially with so many regulars still on the DL.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Nine days ago, Janssen stood before his locker in Baltimore and spoke emotionally about how he hadn't felt like he had contributed enough to his new team and how he intended to prove to the Nationals he deserved to be their primary setup man. Since then, he has tossed four consecutive scoreless eighth innings, retiring 12-of-13 batters, striking out six. There's still a long way to go, and he still has a lot to prove, but Janssen has accepted this challenge and sure looks determined to prove his worth to this team.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Take your pick, because there were four brilliant plays made in the field in this game. Escobar made a nifty, backhanded stab of John Mayberry Jr.'s hard smash to third base to save two runs from scoring in the first inning. Michael Taylor ran a near-perfect route (98 percent efficiency, according to MLB's Statcast) to rob Eric Campbell of a 2-run double in the fifth. Harper made a tough, sliding catch of Wilmer Flores' sinking liner in the eighth, and Jose Lobaton followed with a sprawling catch of Mayberry's popup, falling over the railing near the third-base dugout. This might well have been the Nationals' best defensive game of the year, and it came at a great time.
KEY STAT: Matt Harvey gave up four total runs in the first 40 innings of his career against the Nationals. Then he gave up five runs in the first three innings of Monday night's game.
UP NEXT: The series continues at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday when Joe Ross (2-1, 2.66) returns from Class AAA Syracuse to face reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.14).