Thursday afternoon’s advertised pitcher’s duel between all-stars Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals and R.A. Dickey for the Mets morphed into a blowout win for the visitors as New York defeated Washington, 9-5 before a huge working day crowd of more than 36,000.
The loss dropped the first-place Nationals record to 53-37 entering a crucial series in D.C. with the Atlanta Braves, red-hot and now just 3.5 games behind Washington. In Thursday’s game, New York third baseman, David Wright, continued to be one of the National League’s best hitters, crushing two home runs to give the Mets a comfortable 9-1 lead after four innings.
Gonzalez had one of is worst games of the season. Unable to locate his pitches, he surrendered six runs in 3.1 innings. His ERA rose to 3.32 and his record dropped to 12-5, as the Nationals failed to earn a sweep over the reeling Mets, who had lost eight consecutive games, including two one-run defeats at the hands of Washington. Craig Stammen relived Gonzalez and, while surrendering three additional runs, did eat 3.1 innings, preserving the bullpen for the big series with Atlanta.
After Wright and his teammates battered Gonzalez, Dickey threw his hard knuckle ball on cruise control for nearly eight innings. The Nats managed only two runs off of the NL’s best pitcher, one on a mammoth home run by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals did threaten late, bringing the tying run on deck in both the 8th and 9th innings. However, New York’s shaky bullpen of Tim Byrdak, Ramon Ramirez, Josh Edgin, and Bobby Parnell finished up the final 1 2/3 innings to give Dickey his 13th win against just one loss. To put in perspective how much Dickey means to the Mets, they are 10 games under .500 in the games he does not pitch.
Overall, the Nationals, who won two of three in the series despite two shaky outings from current closer Tyler Clippard, positioned themselves well for the upcoming showdown with the Braves, needing to win just a single game to maintain their lead on first place. On the other hand, the last time the Nationals played a series with high stakes and nationwide attention this season — their interleague match-up with the mighty New York Yankees — the club played nervously, failed to hold leads, and ultimately suffered a sweep at the hands of the Bronx Bombers. This Washington club remains unproven and has had little adversity to test its mettle. This weekend will be a solid test of whether Davey Johnson’s club is a contender or young team not quite ready for the big-time.
Champ of the Game: Wright, who, with two homers and 5 RBI, raised his average to .353. He and Dickey are carrying the rest of the Mets on their shoulders.
For the Nationals, Zimmerman remained hot, going 2-2, with a home run, continuing his hot hitting streak.
Chump of the Game: Gonzalez, who admitted to being “flat” despite the Nats vying for a big sweep over a division rival.
For the Mets, their bullpen, a weakness all season long, almost let a 7-run lead go up in smoke in just 1 2/3 innings. Their struggles forced manager Terry Collins to use his closer, Parnell, to finish the game. Bullpens that fail to hold huge leads can demoralize and anchor the best of teams.
For the Nats, Henry Rodriguez pitched a clean inning of baseball, perhaps giving Johnson confidence to use him in the Atlanta series, especially if Washington can jump out to a big lead in any of the games.
Next Game: Friday night, July 20, 7:05 at Nationals Park, Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg (10-4) faces Tommy Hanson (10-5) in the first of a four-game early pennant race showdown with the second place Atlanta Braves. 2005 hero and all-star Chad Cordero will throw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.