Matt Harvey has dominated his fair share of lineups throughout his brief MLB career and the Nationals are no stranger to what he's capable of. Entering Monday night Harvey had a 0.68 ERA in six starts against Washington with three earned runs allowed and 47 strikeouts across 40 innings.
Harvey had already seen the Nats twice this season and threw 13 scoreless innings combined in those outings. Many have had trouble with the Dark Knight of Gotham, but for the Nats it had been a quixotic effort.
That history would have no bearing in Monday's 7-2 win over the New York Mets, however, as the Nats struck early against Harvey to notch five runs (four earned) on the right-hander through the first three innings. Harvey would go on to pitch seven innings, but enough damage was done to set the stage for the Nats' 50th win of the 2015 season.
The Nats scored two runs in the first inning, one on a single and one on a fielder's choice. Danny Espinosa got it started with a one-out bunt single. Bryce Harper then walked on four pitches and Yunel Escobar followed with an RBI single to left field.
The second run came when Harper and Escobar took off on a pitch in the dirt from Harvey. They ran from first and second and Escobar hesitated before reaching second base to bait the Mets into a rundown. The ploy worked and it allowed Harper to score easily from third and put the Nationals up 2-0.
"Yuni staying in the rundown, that's not something that everyone would do normally," Ian Desmond said. "The majority of guys would just stop and let the guy tag him. He worked it and gave Harper enough time to score. Then we just worked Harvey's pitch count and kept on grinding on him."
"Yuni got in the rundown. He would’ve been out if he kept going," Matt Williams said. "But, heads up play from [Bob Henley] and from Harp over there at third base to recognize that once the ball was returned to the first baseman then he’s got opportunity to score."
The three runs in the third inning came thanks to a Clint Robinson double and an error by Mets third baseman Daniel Murphy. That rally began with another Espinosa single and Harper walk. Robinson then roped a double to center field one out later to score both runners.
The error came on a soft grounder by Desmond, one that forced Murphy to make a tough throw to first. The ball sailed past Mets first baseman Eric Campbell and up the right field line after it caromed off the wall. Robinson was then waved home by the umpires to make it 5-0.
Murphy made two errors on the night and Robinson pointed to those mistakes as a big reason why the Nats were able to finally crack Harvey.
"I think the defensive miscues probably hurt him a little bit because he felt like 'I gotta make a perfect pitch now because my defense is not really helping me out.' It looked like he was trying to do a little too much with some of his pitches," Robinson said.
Robinson also believes the Nationals were well-prepared to face Harvey after seeing former Cy Young-winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in their previous two games.
"The past couple of days with Greinke and Kershaw, I think that helped us out a little bit with Harvey. It kind of gave us a preview of what to expect from a stuff standpoint. We just went out there and executed our gameplan and you saw the results," he said.
Williams thinks the Nats benefitted from being more selective.
"I think we laid off the high fastball a little bit better. We understand that’s part of his repertoire and when he gets two strikes, he like to elevate that fastball. Harp laid off a couple. We got a couple of walks early which allowed us to get more base runners," he said.
The Nationals continue their run through some of the best pitchers in baseball with Jacob deGrom on Tuesday night. They couldn't hit Kershaw or Greinke, but they got to Harvey. Now they'll take their chances against the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.