The Washington Nationals ' lead in the NL East is shrinking due to an inconsistent stretch.
Unfortunately for the New York Mets , they're not the team closing the gap.
The Nationals begin a key 10-game stretch against their two closest pursuers in the division Tuesday night when they host the sliding Mets in the opener of a three-game set.
Washington (51-36) has alternated wins and losses in its last eight games, concluding a four-game split at Miami with a 5-3 loss Monday.
Since July 5, the Nationals' lead in the East has slipped from 4 1/2 games over New York to 2 1/2 ahead of second-place Atlanta, which has won seven in a row. The Mets (46-43) are third and trail Washington by six games after losing four straight, including three to the Braves over the weekend.
"We knew coming into here that every game is important, especially coming into Atlanta and then (going to) Washington," said Johan Santana , the losing pitcher in Sunday's 6-1 defeat. "If we compete, we're right there. It's tough."
Washington is hoping to create some separation. After this series, the Nationals play a four-game home set against the Braves before visiting the Mets for three more meetings.
A red-hot Ryan Zimmerman should help. The third baseman is hitting .373 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in his last 18 games, going 8 for 15 with a pair of homers in the last four and coming a triple shy of the cycle Monday.
He's batting .329 in his last 18 meetings with New York, and is 4 for 8 against Tuesday's scheduled starter Jonathon Niese .
Niese (7-4, 3.73) is getting his first start against the Nationals this season. He's 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 23 2-3 innings over four career starts versus Washington.
The left-hander was hit hard in his latest outing July 8, surrendering four runs in the opening inning and three more in the seventh in a 7-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs . That was in stark contrast with his previous six outings, in which he went 4-1 with a 1.74 ERA.
The Nationals will turn to Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.43), who has no record and a 3.78 ERA in three starts since returning to the rotation in place of Chien-Ming Wang. The left-hander wasn't very sharp in his most recent start July 5, allowing three runs and 11 hits in five innings before his teammates rallied for a 6-5 win over San Francisco.
Detwiler is 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in seven games - four starts - against the Mets, beating them twice this year. One of those outings was his season debut April 10, when he fanned six in five scoreless innings during a 6-2 victory in New York.
The Mets may have Jason Bay back from the disabled list Tuesday. A concussion has kept him out since June 15, and he's played in only seven games since April.
The outfielder went 3 for 16 with six walks during his latest rehab stint in the minors. He's batting .187 with four homers in 22 games for New York.
Bay's possible return may be timely if Lucas Duda is out of the lineup for a third game in a row with an injured left hamstring. Duda is 6 for 19 with three homers and six RBIs in his last six games at Washington.
|New York Mets|
|July 11, 2012||Dillon Gee||Day-to-Day||Bloot clot in right shoulder|
|July 08, 2012||Dillon Gee||15-Day DL||Blood clot in right shoulder|
|July 03, 2012||Kirk Nieuwenhuis||Day-to-Day||Bruised right hand|
|June 23, 2012||Frank Francisco||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|June 16, 2012||Jason Bay||15-Day DL||Concussion|
|June 02, 2012||Mike Baxter||15-Day DL||Displaced right collarbone|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|June 30, 2012||Stephen Strasburg||Day-to-Day||Left game - heat exhaustion|
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 17, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Oblique soreness|
|June 11, 2012||Roger Bernadina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right hamstring|
|June 10, 2012||Bryce Harper||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After eight innings, it looked as if the Washington Nationals had another methodical victory. Two innings later, they were just happy to come away with a win at all.
In those two wild innings there were seven runs, three blown save opportunities, a disputed home run, a game-changing triple by a teenager and a game-winning wild pitch.
In the end: A 5-4 win in 10 innings over the New York Mets .
"That's my kind of ballgame," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Ross Detwiler and Sean Burnett had shut out the Mets over eight innings, but Tyler Clippard , who's been nearly perfect in the two months he's been Washington's closer, gave up the lead.
He allowed a three-run home run to pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin in the ninth, a drive that barely cleared the right-center field railing and moved Johnson to request a review.
The Nationals tied it at 3 in the ninth, the Mets went ahead in the top of the 10th, and then a madcap 10th inning ensued.
"That's why you come to the ballpark. The first eight innings were kind of boring and the last (two) were unbelievable," Tyler Moore said.
Moore was standing at the plate when Pedro Beato threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the 10th inning that allowed Ryan Zimmerman to score with the winning run.
Bryce Harper tied it in the 10th with a run-scoring triple off Tim Byrdak (2-1) before Beato entered with the bases loaded.
Jhonatan Solano led off the 10th with a single. Steve Lombardozzi bunted him to second. Harper tripled to right off Tim Byrdak (2-1) to tie it. Zimmerman and Ian Desmond were walked intentionally to load the bases. Adam LaRoche grounded to first baseman Ike Davis , who threw home to force Harper for the second out.
Beato came on to face Moore, and bounced a 1-2 pitch in the dirt. Catcher Josh Thole wasn't able to reach the ball in time, and Zimmerman scored standing up.
"I didn't know it got away at first. It hit the dirt pretty hard," Moore said.
Thole entered the game in the eighth inning after Collins hit for starter Mike Nickeas .
"I've got to block it. That's the bottom line," Thole said. "I was ready to block it. I just didn't get it done."
The loss was the fifth in a row for New York, a season high.
The Mets lost their last game before the All-Star break, were swept in three games at Atlanta and have two more with the Nationals before heading home.
"There's some guys that are really upset in the other room, and they should be," New York manager Terry Collins said. "It's time to reach down inside and pull out whatever you've got left and make something out of the remainder of this trip."
Ryan Mattheus (3-1), Washington's fifth pitcher, retired the only batter he faced in the 10th for the win.
Harper had his fifth triple, and it was the game's key hit.
"I got a pitch I could handle, and I was thinking three out of the box," Harper said. "You live for these kind of games."
The Nationals increased their lead in the NL East to 3 1/2 games after Atlanta lost 9-0 to San Francisco.
"We've got a long second half to go, and hopefully we'll have some more of those," Harper said.
Moore hit a fifth-inning home run and Lombardozzi had an eighth-inning RBI double for Washington to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Michael Morse and LaRoche singled off Bobby Parnell . Desmond pinch-ran for Morse, and with two outs, scored on Espinosa's RBI single.
Starter Ross Detwiler gave up five hits, struck out four and walked none in seven innings.
The Nationals had only three hits off New York starter Jonathon Niese , but one of them was Moore's fifth home run of the year, a one-out shot to right field.
Niese struck out eight and walked none.
In the eighth, pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa walked with two outs off Ramon Ramirez and Lombardozzi doubled to left off Josh Edgin to make it 2-0.
NOTES: Desmond didn't start for the third consecutive game with a strained oblique muscle. Johnson made light of the injury's popularity. "The oblique is in in 2012, I guess. Everyone seems to have one. I didn't know they were contagious," Johnson said. ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth will probably be cleared for baseball activities on Wednesday, Johnson said. Werth, who broke his left wrist in early May, is about two or three weeks away from returning to the majors. ... The Mets activated OF Jason Bay from the 15-day disabled list. He had a concussion on June 15. They designated INF Omar Quintanilla for assignment. ... New York OF Lucas Duda missed his third straight game with a strained left hamstring.