WASHINGTON -- The first-place Washington Nationals are in the midst of another pennant race, aiming for their third National League East title in five years.
But important things like life events also take precedent, as Nationals manager Dusty Baker was not with the team Wednesday due to a death in the family.
Bench coach Chris Speier, who said he had a "heavy heart" as he filled in for Baker, helped guide Washington to a tidy 1-0 win over the New York Mets in the midst of late-afternoon shadows. The Nationals won two of three games in the series after starting pitcher Tanner Roark threw seven shutout innings.
"My two-seamer had late movement. It was a big game," said Roark, who lowered his ERA to 2.75 while giving up just three hits.
The hitting star was his batterymate, Wilson Ramos, who hit a solo homer in the seventh for the only run of the game.
"He has been struggling a little bit," Speier said of Ramos. "It is a long season. He really squared that ball up."
Ramos guided the pitching staff to its 12th shutout of the year. The Mets left the bases loaded in the first as slumping Jay Bruce struck out and T.J. Rivera popped out.
"Willie came through again," Roark said. "Willie works really hard. He knows all of our pitchers like nobody else."
The second-place Mets (77-69) are now 10 games back of the first-place Nationals (87-59) with 16 games left. The magic number for Washington to clinch the division is now seven while the Mets hold a half-game lead for the second wild card.
"We have caught up a lot in the last couple of weeks," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "Today is tough when the other two teams (San Francisco and St. Louis) lose; we have a chance to do some damage if we take care of our own business. We are going to take a nice day off (Thursday), catch our breath and then go after it starting Friday" at home with the Minnesota Twins.
Bruce is now hitting .246 but Collins notes he always been an everyday player. He is hitting less than .200 since joining the Mets after a trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
"It is hard. It is going to be hard," Collins said of trying to put the best lineup on the field. "I am not going to make any excuses."
Ramos hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Fernando Salas (0-1) into the seats in center for his 21st homer.
Roark (15-8) gave up three hits with seven strikeouts and four walks as he went seven scoreless innings for the ninth time this year, the most in the majors.
"He's been pitching well this year, and he was mixing the fastball and breaking ball well," said Mets catcher Rene Rivera, who was 0-for-2 with a walk.
Blake Treinen threw a perfect eighth for Washington and closer Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 42nd save, and 12th with the Nationals. The losing pitcher Tuesday night in 10 innings, Melancon got T.J. Rivera on a grounder to end it after Rivera homered off him in the previous game.
Trea Turner had two hits for the Nationals, who were 8-2 on the homestand.
Mets starter Robert Gsellman, who was making the fourth start of his career, gave up no runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings with one walk and four strikeouts.
"At this time of year, where we're at, and you see the young guys stepping up and doing their job, you can tell how good stuff they have," Mets catcher Rivera said.
Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa, who made a quick exit from the clubhouse after the game, is slated to be with his wife Thursday for the birth of their first child in California.
NOTES: Washington manager Dusty Baker was not in the dugout after a death in the family, according to the team. Bench coach Chris Speier filled in for the manager. Baker is in his first year as the Nationals skipper and is slated to join the team in Atlanta for a series that begins Friday, according to the team. ... The Mets, who are 2-9 in one-run games since July 26. are off Thursday and begin a series at home on Friday with the Minnesota Twins as RHP Bartolo Colon (13-7, 3.27 ERA) opposes Twins RHP Jose Berrios (2-6, 9.27 ERA). ... Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard (13-8) has 205 strikeouts this year after recording 10 on Tuesday against the Nationals. At age 24, he is the fifth pitcher in team history to reach 200 strikeouts at age 24 or younger. ... Mets LHP Jerry Blevins, who got his first save since 2012 on Tuesday, was traded by Washington for OF Matt den Dekker on March 30, 2015. On Sept. 2, den Dekker was designated for assignment by the Nationals after he played in 55 games for Washington last year and 19 this season. Blevins fanned INF Daniel Murphy in the 10th inning for the final out and his first save since Sept. 4, 2012, also at Washington when he pitched for the Oakland A's. ... Washington RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 2.78 ERA) will face Atlanta RHP John Gant (1-3, 4.40 ERA) on Friday.