The way the Washington Nationals have been playing lately, it takes something special to beat them.
Jonathon Niese gave the New York Mets something special Saturday night, pitching the Mets to a 2-0 win over the Nationals in the second of a three-game weekend series at Nationals Park.
Ike Davis smacked a two-run homer to account for all the scoring in the game, which was a classic pitchers’ duel between Niese (10-6) and Washington’s Edwin Jackson. Aside from the two runs that scored, only two other men reached third base all night, and the pitching staffs combined for 23 strikeouts.
The Nationals remained four games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, as the Braves fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 Saturday.
Washington’s best chance to score came in the first inning, as Danny Espinosa ripped a one-out single down the third-base line and Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single to right. A deep fly ball from Michael Morse advanced Espinosa to third, which opened up second base for Zimmerman to swipe. But Adam LaRoche grounded out to end the threat.
Jackson had also pitched out of trouble in the first inning, as he stranded a one-out triple by Mike Baxter. From there, it was some of the veteran’s best work, as he didn’t allow another hit until Davis’s home run in the seventh. Jackson (7-8) struck out a season-high 11 batters in his seven innings of work and had to be sharp because Niese was matching him inning by inning.
Five of Niese’s seven strikeouts were called as the Nationals had trouble with the late movement on Niese’s cut fastball. He gave up a double to LaRoche in the fourth, a single to Jesus Flores in the fifth, and a leadoff single to Espinosa in the sixth, but each time worked his way out of trouble unscathed.
Jackson’s strongest inning was the sixth, in which he struck out the side. But things turned sour in the seventh, as Jackson lost David Wright leading off the inning and issued the game’s only free pass. Davis, who has the most road round-trippers in the National League, then drove a fastball over the wall the opposite way, breaking the shutout and giving Niese and the Mets all the offense they would need.
Washington nearly got a late-game rally started in the ninth against Mets closer Frank Francisco. Zimmerman led off the inning with a line drive into the right-field corner that was ticketed for extra bases, but Baxter was playing deep and tracked the ball down on the warning track. The Nationals went quietly from there against Francisco, who picked up his 20th save.
Champ of the Game: Jonathon Niese. The up-and-down lefty was certainly up, sending a great crowd of 42,662 Nationals fans home disappointed. Niese threw 7 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and no walks to go along with his seven strikeouts. For the Nationals, Jackson was actually having a slightly better game on the mound through the first six innings and deserved better. He surrendered just two hits and a walk over his seven innings of work.
Chump of the Game: Michael Morse. The Beast’s hitting streak ended ignominiously at an unlucky 13 games with a 0-for-4 performance, including a pair of called third strikes. For the Mets, Andres Torres also posted three strikeouts, all against Jackson, and never got up a fourth time to try to break his duck on the night.
Next Game: The Mets and Nats square off again in the rubber game of the series at 1:35 ET Sunday at Nationals Park. Jeremy Hefner (2-4, 4.76 ERA) will start for the Mets, officially giving New York a six-man starting rotation. Gio Gonzalez (15-6, 3.29) will aim to set a Nationals single-season record for wins.