NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals hope Monday night proved it’s never too early in the baseball season for a turning-point game to take place. The New York Mets will take the field Tuesday night aiming to show it’s never too early for a team to display its resiliency.
The Nationals and Mets will play a potentially pivotal middle game of their three-game series Tuesday night, when the teams square off at Citi Field. Visiting Washington stormed back from a five-run eighth-inning deficit to stun New York 8-6 in the opener on Monday night.
Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 2.20 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler (1-0, 1.29).
For seven innings Monday night, it appeared the Nationals (8-9) could take solace only in the fact that Gonzalez, who historically dominates the Mets, was ready to pitch Tuesday. Washington collected just four hits in the first seven innings against New York right-hander Jacob deGrom, who entered the eighth with a 6-1 lead, 12 strikeouts and just 84 pitches thrown.
But the Nationals sent 12 men to the plate against five Mets pitchers in the eighth and scored six runs via a pair of two-run singles by Bryce Harper and Wilmer Difo and two bases-loaded walks drawn by Matt Reynolds and Michael Taylor, the latter of which gave Washington the lead.
The win was just the fourth in the last 13 games for the Nationals, who would have fallen seven games behind the Mets with a loss.
“That was big, super big — I’m not going to sit here and lie,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said afterward. “That dugout was electric.”
Now the Mets (12-3) have to hope one loss didn’t sap the energy they gained during a red-hot start – one that was fueled by a dominant bullpen. New York entered Monday with a major league-low 1.51 ERA in 53 2/3 innings.
But Monday’s meltdown may have been the price to pay for that early success. Mets relievers are pitching an average of 3 2/3 innings per game under rookie manager Mickey Callaway, who used five relievers Monday for the second straight game, the third time in four games and the fifth time in the last nine.
“It’s one inning — it wasn’t even the game it was really one inning, we outplayed them for the rest of the game,” Callaway said afterward. “We didn’t get the job done.
“We’ll learn from it and make sure that it doesn’t throw us into some kind of tailspin. Because we’ve been a really good team and we’ve been showing that.”
Gonzalez took the loss in his most recent start last Thursday, when he gave up three runs (two earned) in five innings as the Nationals fell to the Colorado Rockies 5-1. Wheeler won his season debut last Wednesday, when he allowed one run in seven innings as the Mets beat the Miami Marlins 4-1.
Gonzalez is 14-5 with a 2.88 ERA in 24 career starts against the Mets. The wins are the most Gonzalez has collected against any opponent. He is particularly effective at Citi Field, where he is 10-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 15 starts.
Wheeler is 2-7 with a 4.84 ERA in 10 career starts against the Nationals, whom he has faced more than any other team.