NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals and the New York Mets have played 38 innings in the last seven days. The scouting reports needed on the opposition, at this point, have become minimal.
The Nationals know that 6-foot-10, right-hander Chris Young throws slow enough to make a pitch tantalizingly attractive — but with enough late rise to make it infuriatingly difficult to square up. A “riseball,” as Bryce Harper put it.
They also know that the Mets‘ bullpen, which has allowed 145 runs this season and has an MLB-worst 5.16 ERA, is eminently beatable.
All they had to do on Monday night was wait.
In an 8-2 victory, the Nationals were held hitless from innings 2-8, mustered just one meek infield hit in the ninth, and then exploded for six runs off five hits and a walk in the 10th inning.
“They know us, we know them,” said outfielder Michael Morse, who was a perfect example of that patience going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his first four at-bats, and then crushing a two-run home run in the 10th for the Nationals’ seventh and eighth runs of the game.
“We know what they’re capable of doing late in games, and they know what we’re capable of doing. It’s a good battle.”
The balls they scorched in the 10th with the bases loaded — a Harper RBI-single, a three-run Ryan Zimmerman double, a Morse monster two-run home run to center field — made up for so many other issues. They covered so many other ills that had existed for the first nine innings.
They erased the doubts that would have crept in had Ike Davis’ solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, ambushing Michael Gonzalez’s first-pitch fastball, been the precursor to a late-game loss.
Doubts over the decision to pull Jordan Zimmermann after six more stellar innings of work to bring his ERA over the past six starts to 0.94 and making him 20-for-20 in lasting at least six innings every time out. Over continuing the plan to ease Drew Storen back into a major league workload with one batter of work in the eighth inning, when the next batter tied the game off Gonzalez.
Even doubts that might have sneaked in about why an offense that entered the game averaging over five runs per game in July was held hitless for 25 straight plate appearances after the first inning. Young, who rarely broke 85 mph on the radar gun with his four-seam fastball, allowed three hits over seven innings. His only true mistake coming on a 3-2 fastball to Bryce Harper in the first inning that he turned on for a two-run homer.
None of that would show up in the box score — or in the standings, where the Nationals have expanded their NL East lead over the Atlanta Braves to 4 ½ games — after their offensive outburst in the 10th.
“It’s kind of the makeup of our team,” Morse said. “We just never quit. Young was pitching a great game and when he came out of the game, some of the guys felt better. I know me, I felt better. We just kept coming, kept pushing. Lately, it doesn’t matter how many runs you get, you just have to keep adding them and keep going.”
The Mets are a sinking ship, losers of 10 of their last 11 games, including three of the last four they’ve played against the Nationals. But good teams beat bad ones, and for the Nationals to get to where they want to be this season they need to continue to take advantage of the lesser teams — especially in their division.
Their late offense allowed them not to focus on what had gone wrong or, as manager Davey Johnson put it, “the things that can cost you ballgames,” like poorly executed bunts. Those issues could go unnoticed, or at least unlamented for one more day. They’d won their 56th game of the season 19 days earlier than they won it in 2011.
“We’re a confident team,” Zimmerman said. “We know if we can hang around and give ourselves a chance, that’s all we need.”