First baseman Matt Adams flipped the baseball to reliever Kelvin Herrera, who had just posted only his second save for a Nationals bullpen that has had a tumultuous week.
Adams then shared a handshake on the infield with third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose hitting tear the past 24 hours helped spark a rare winning series.
The Nationals, with plenty of intrigue off the field the past two weeks, won for the fifth time in seven games Wednesday afternoon, holding on to beat the New York Mets 5-3 before a matinee crowd of 34,319 fans.
“Everything is behind us now. Trade deadline (on Tuesday), everything,” said manager Dave Martinez, who didn’t mention the July 20 shouting match between pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. “This is going to be really interesting.”
Washington won both games of the two-game series — the first series win for the Nationals since early July against the Miami Marlins. And it came against Noah Syndergaard, the hard-throwing Mets hurler.
“One of the best in baseball,” Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper said of the right-hander.
Harper went 2-for-4 for the second straight day and could be showing shines of coming alive, according to Martinez. Harper is now hitting .226 with 25 homers and 65 RBI.
“He is playing the way he is capable of playing,” Martinez said. “He is really doing well. I told him, ‘Just play the game.’ If he continues to do that we are going to have fun.”
The third-place Nationals (54-53) began the day 5 ½ games back of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East. And for the second straight day, the Nationals let a veteran reliever go. This time, it was Shawn Kelley who was designated for assignment on Wednesday, after Brandon Kintzler was traded to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.
After a record-setting 25-4 blitzing of the Mets on Tuesday night, the Nationals reverted to a more conventional approach on a cloudy but blue-sky day at Nationals Park: Two-out hitting with runners on base, a homer and two key insurance runs in the eighth.
“We have a good lineup,” said Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, who stole two bases for the second straight game. “I feel like we are playing good baseball.”
In his second start this season, lefty Tommy Milone allowed just one run on three hits in seven innings. He is filling in for injured starter Strasburg, who is dealing with neck problems.
Rookie Spencer Kieboom, who like Milone began the season at Syracuse, was the starting catcher for the Nationals on Wednesday.
“He did a great job,” Kieboom said. “It was a lot of fun. I have a great relationship with Tommy. I caught him a lot of Syracuse before I came here.”
Harper, the subject of trade rumors earlier in the week, had a two-out RBI single in the first to score Turner for a 1-0 lead. Turner scored three of the five runs.
Rendon, who had three hits Tuesday, then gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead with the two-run homer off Syndergaard (6-2) in the third. That gave Rendon six RBI in the past two games after he had taken time off for the birth of his first child last week.
Milone (1-0) pitched a shutout until Jose Reyes hit a solo homer just barely over the fence down the left field line to make it 3-1 in the sixth.
Nationals reliever Ryan Madson allowed a homer to Reyes to start the eighth as the Mets trimmed the lead to 3-2. But Adams and second baseman Wilmer Difo drove in unearned runs in the eighth to make it 5-2.
Filling in for injured closer Sean Doolittle, Herrera got the last three outs in the ninth for the save. Herrera, though, did give up a homer to Wilmer Flores after the ball hit left fielder Juan Soto’s glove before going over the fence.
But the Nationals got a much-needed tight win. The Nationals are 17-13 in two-run games, but 10-18 in one-run affairs.
“It’s going to take a village,” Martinez said. “This is a pivotal time of year.”
NOTES: The Nationals begin a four-game series at home Thursday night against the Cincinnati Reds and manager Jim Riggleman, who grew up in Rockville and managed the Nationals from 2009-2011. Ace Max Scherzer (14-5, 2.30) starts for the Nationalsagainst the Reds’ Tyler Mahle (7-8, 4.53) … The Nationals are 25-25 at home … The game time temperature was 83 degrees for the 12:05 p.m. start.
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