WASHINGTON -- Michael A. Taylor, who made his major-league debut last August, has played stellar defense lately, but the 24-year-old has not felt entirely comfortable at the plate.
"Up and down," Taylor said of his hitting, as his average sits at .234. "I don't feel too good right now, but hopefully I can build off today."
How did Taylor handle his at-bat in the eighth, as he hit a two-run single against Bobby Parnell to tie the game at 3-3?
"Try to step out of the box and take more time than I would normally," said Taylor, who scored the winning run on a double down the left-field line by third baseman Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa began the game at second base but moved to third when Yunel Escobar, the starting third baseman, left the game in the second inning.
"I am really happy for him. It is really fun to watch," Washington shortstop Ian Desmond said of the game-winner by Espinosa.
Mets manager Terry Collins blamed himself for the loss, saying he should have bought some time in order to let closer Jeurys Familia into the game in the eighth.
"He has been throwing the ball great," Collins said of Parnell. "It is on me. I could have delayed the game a little bit. That is not Bobby. He looked great. He made some good pitches. That is my fault."
But Parnell wasn't passing the buck.
"It's just poor timing for a bad day on my part," Parnell said. "These guys did everything they were supposed to. I just didn't do my part. It was totally on me. They hit it."
The Nationals (51-42), who left 12 runners on base, improved their lead by three games over the second-place Mets (49-46) in the National League East. Washington is 17-9 since June 19 and improved to 3-33 when trailing after seven innings.
"It is a win for us, just like any other," Washington manager Matt Williams said. "We created opportunities for ourselves."
Jordan Zimmermann, the starting pitcher for the Nationals, said taking two out of three against the Mets was critical.
"It was huge. It was big for us," Zimmermann said. "It is a whole different clubhouse right now. We feel better going to Pittsburgh."
The winning pitcher was Matt Thornton (1-0), who pitched a scoreless eighth, while Drew Storen got his 29th save with a perfect ninth.
The Mets took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth on a two-out, two-run double by left fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis and an RBI single by catcher Kevin Plawecki.
The Nationals trimmed the lead to 3-1 in the last of the fourth on an RBI single by Taylor.
Mets starter Noah Syndergaard went five innings and allowed one run and five hits but walked five while throwing 98 pitches. "He worked hard," Collins said.
Zimmermann gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings. He still has not lost since June 17 against Tampa Bay as the rally in the eighth got him off the hook.
Washington right fielder Bryce Harper and Desmond also had two hits. It was the second two-hit game in three contests for Desmond, who entered the game hitting .209. Daniel Murphy, the Mets' third baseman, had two hits.
Escobar left the game while he was batting in the bottom of the second inning. Escobar was shaken up after trying to check his swing and appeared to hold his left wrist. He stayed on the ground momentarily and took a few minutes before stepping back into the box.
Escobar fouled off the next pitch down the third-base line and was then replaced by pinch hitter Dan Uggla with a 1-2 count. Uggla took the only pitch he saw for Strike 3 and the first out of the inning, though the strikeout was charged to Escobar.
Uggla then went to second base in the top of the third and Espinosa, the starting second baseman, moved to third. X-rays on Escobar's wrist were negative, Williams said.
NOTES: The Mets will face their third first-place team in a row when they begin a series at home against the Dodgers on Thursday. Mets RHP Bartolo Colon (9-8, 4.86 ERA) will start against LHP Clayton Kershaw (7-6, 2.68), who struck out 14 batters in his previous start at Washington on Saturday. ... The Nationals will begin a series at Pittsburgh on Thursday and Washington RHP Doug Fister (3-5, 4.30) will face Pirates LHP Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.98). ... Washington pitchers had allowed just 40 walks in the previous 25 games going into Wednesday. That was the best mark in the majors, and 16 fewer than the next club (Seattle). ... Washington OF Bryce Harper entered Wednesday leading baseball in on-base average at .463, reaching base in 79 of the 86 games he had played this year.