The Washington Nationals are about to embark on a seven-game road trip with a small cushion atop the NL East.
Meanwhile, the New York Mets are in danger of falling completely out of the race.
Washington's Jordan Zimmermann will try to keep both trends going.
Zimmermann looks to help the Nationals continue their season-long success against the Mets, who will try to avoid a 10th loss in 11 games Monday night in the opener of a three-game series.
After blowing a nine-run lead in an extra-inning loss Friday in the opener of a four-game set against Atlanta, Washington (55-39) was shut out in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday. The Nationals, though, rebounded to win the next two contests and begin this trip 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Braves.
"We didn't want (the Braves) coming into our house and leave with them feeling that good," manager Davey Johnson told the Nationals' official website. "I gave them one Friday, and then they nipped us on Saturday morning, but I wasn't worried about the club. There's no letdown in this ball club."
Johnson was probably also feeling better after Bryce Harper returned to the starting lineup Sunday and went 1 for 5 with a run. He fouled a bunt off his ankle in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader and did not start the nightcap, entering as a pinch hitter.
The Nationals will look to put some additional distance between themselves and the third-place Mets beginning Monday. Washington won two of three meetings last week to improve to 6-3 in the season series.
Zimmermann (7-6, 2.35 ERA) tossed six scoreless innings in a 4-3 victory Wednesday in the middle game of that series. He also gave up two solo homers among five hits allowed in six innings of a 7-6 win in 12 innings against New York on June 5.
The right-hander is looking to win his third straight start and fifth consecutive decision. He hasn't allowed a run in his last two outings and is 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA over his last nine starts. In the last five, he has a 0.84 ERA.
"I want to finish the season strong, not just the first half," he said. "So far, so good. I want to keep getting strong as the year goes on."
That was the third consecutive loss for Young, who has turned in quality starts in five of his past six outings. The right-hander is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts against the Nationals.
Young's team fell below .500 for the first time this season after losing 8-3 in 12 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. New York (47-48) has dropped nine of 10 to fall a season-high 8 1/2 games behind Washington."I don't think we're playing as poorly as the record indicates," said third baseman David Wright , who went 3 for 6, "but this is when we need to get things turned around and moving in the direction we need it to."
New York's bullpen was very busy over the weekend, pitching 17 innings in three games. The relievers are 0-3 with a 5.45 ERA in the last 10 appearances while the starters have a 7.09 ERA.
Looking for a spark, top prospect Matt Harvey is scheduled to start against Arizona on Thursday.
|July 23, 2012||Ian Desmond||15-Day DL||Torn left oblique|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|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 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|New York Mets|
|July 21, 2012||Johan Santana||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|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|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Bases loaded, tie game, extra innings and Bryce Harper at the plate with only one goal in mind: Don't ground into a double play.
Not to worry, rook.
Harper homered his first time up in New York, then hit a tiebreaking single to key a six-run burst in the 10th that sent the Washington Nationals over the Mets 8-2 Monday night.
"Coming to New York, all the fans love their teams, you just try to come in here and play it like another team," Harper said.
Shortstop Ruben Tejada 's error on a potential double-play ball set up the big 10th. Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run double and Michael Morse added a two-run homer as the NL East-leading Nationals broke away.
The Mets lost for the 10th time in 11 games. A day earlier, they gave up five runs in the 12th inning and fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-3.
The six runs tied the most the Mets had ever allowed in an extra inning. Never before had they lost consecutive extra-inning games by at least five runs.
"I'm on top of that stuff every day," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I don't have to hold team meetings to make sure I get to see key people."
It was 2-all on a rainy evening when Roger Bernadina opened the Washington 10th with a bloop single. Sandy Leon followed with an easy comebacker to Tim Byrdak (2-2), but Tejada dropped the throw and got spiked in the right calf by a sliding Bernadina.
Pedro Beato relieved, Mark DeRosa bunted into a forceout at third and Steve Lombardozzi singled to load the bases.
After pitching coach Dan Warthen went to the mound, Harper made it 3-2 with a sharp single to right-center. Zimmerman, chosen earlier in the day as the NL player of the week, doubled to the right-center alley and a hustling Harper almost caught a standing-up Lombardozzi near home plate.
"I just kept going," Harper said. "If he slides in front of me, I have to slide the other way."
Morse capped the rally with his sixth homer.
"Bats woke up," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
The Nationals improved to 3-0 against the Mets in extras this season. Last week, Harper hit a tying triple in the 10th against New York.
Tom Gorzelanny (3-2) retired Jason Bay on a grounder with a runner on second to end the ninth.
David Wright and Ike Davis homered for the Mets in their fourth straight loss.
Harper hit a two-run homer in the first inning that sailed into the Washington bullpen beyond the right-center wall.
The rookie connected for his ninth home run of the season and first since June 28, a span of 82 at-bats. He later drew a walk from Chris Young and stole his 13th base.
Harper grew up in Las Vegas and said he twice came on family vacations to New York City. The highlights, he recalled, were seeing Times Square and Central Park and going to a game at old Yankee Stadium when was about 12 in which current teammate Chien-Ming Wang pitched.
If he has time on this short trip, Harper said he most wanted to visit the 9/11 memorial at ground zero.
Wright hit his 15th homer in the fourth off Jordan Zimmermann . Davis hit a tying home run in the seventh on the first pitch from reliever Michael Gonzalez .
Young and Zimmermann matched up for the third time this season. Last Wednesday, Zimmermann threw six scoreless innings to win in Washington.
Zimmermann allowed four hits, walked none and struck out six in six innings. Young retired 14 straight batters in the middle innings, allowed three hits and struck out seven before leaving after the seventh.
NOTES: A Snooki, a Wookiee and a Rookie - but no Mookie. It was "Star Wars" night at Citi Field, featuring dressed-up characters. Mets fan Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi from "Jersey Shore" also was on hand - she got booed - as was Mets rookie pitcher Matt Harvey, who will make his big league debut Thursday night at Arizona. Alas, Mets ambassador Mookie Wilson was not seen. ... Washington put All-Star SS Ian Desmond on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique. ... Byrdak pitched for the fifth straight day. ... The Mets said closer Frank Francisco (oblique) has discomfort in his right knee and received a shot. He will not begin a rehab assignment Tuesday at Class-A Brooklyn as planned. Instead, he won't pitch until at least Wednesday.