NEW YORK -- Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy stood in front of his locker Sunday night, smiled thinly, struck a polite tone and offered up the most vanilla explanation possible for his dominance of the New York Mets, the team for whom he played his first eight big league seasons.
"Yeah, he wants to beat their brains in," Scherzer said after Murphy's first-inning grand slam gave the right-hander all the support he would need as the Nationals completed a three-game sweep of the Mets with a 6-3 win at Citi Field.
Scherzer knows of what he speaks: He recorded a major-league-record-tying 20 strikeouts last May 11 in his first game against the Detroit Tigers, the team for whom he played from 2010 through 2014.
"He won't say anything, and he won't say anything to us," Scherzer said. "It's not like he's in here boasting that he wants to beat the Mets. He wants to beat 'em apart. That's just the way this goes."
For Murphy, "this" has been hitting like a Hall of Famer every time his former employer is the opponent.
Murphy is batting .386 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 22 games against the Mets, who did not offer him a contract after he hit seven postseason homers and won National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player honors during New York's run to the World Series in 2015.
The eight homers are the fourth most he has collected against any opponent. Murphy has 12 homers against the Philadelphia Phillies, whom he has faced 129 times, and nine apiece against the Atlanta Braves (119 games) and Miami Marlins (118 games).
"I think you're always motivated against a division rival," Murphy said. "I mean, you're going to play these guys 19 times. You play the Braves, the Marlins. And so when you play a division team, when one team goes in one direction, the other team's going in the other one. So the games are I think of the utmost importance."
But perhaps games against the Mets are even a little more important than Murphy is letting on.
"It definitely matters," Baker said. "Guys say it doesn't matter, but it matters. It mattered for me when I faced the Braves when I got traded from the Braves."
Baker hit .275 with 23 homers and 70 RBIs in 138 games against the Braves after Atlanta traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers following the 1975 season.
"You just concentrate a little harder," Baker said. "You know them and they know you."
Murphy's second career grand slam was set up by Adam Eaton, who led the game off by getting hit by a pitch, and singles by Trea Turner and Bryce Harper. Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler struck out Ryan Zimmerman before Murphy launched a 1-0 pitch beyond the right-center-field fence.
"They've got a real good team -- they're very deep," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "That's why you have to make pitches against them. The middle guys can really hurt you."
The Mets closed within 4-3 thanks to a leadoff homer in the first by Michael Conforto and a two-run homer by Neil Walker in the third. But Scherzer (3-1) retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced, including the last 10. He allowed the three runs on five hits and one walk while striking out nine over eight innings.
Zimmerman provided insurance with a two-run homer in the eighth for the Nationals (13-5), who have won seven straight and are already 5 1/2 games ahead of the fourth-place Mets.
"It was a good first series, but it's early," Zimmerman said. "We know we've got a lot more work to do than just three games against those guys."
Nationals reliever Oliver Perez gave up a leadoff single in the ninth to Jay Bruce, after which Koda Glover earned his second save -- and his second in as many games -- by retiring all three batters he faced.
Conforto had three hits for the Mets (8-11), who have lost eight of nine during a stretch in which four Opening Day starters have sustained injuries requiring an absence of at least one game. First baseman Lucas Duda (left elbow) is on the disabled list, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (left hamstring) didn't play against the Nationals, and catcher Travis d'Arnaud (right wrist) was limited to pinch-hitting duties the last three games.
"The concern is getting these guys back," Collins said. "Once we get healthy and get our lineup back in there, I think things will turn around."
Wheeler (1-2) settled down after the first and allowed four runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six over seven innings. It was his longest start since Aug. 27, 2014. He missed the last two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
NOTES: Mets manager Terry Collins said he hoped LF Yoenis Cespedes (left hamstring) and C Travis d'Arnaud (right wrist) could return to the lineup Tuesday. If not, Collins said the Mets would have to discuss placing them on the disabled list. ... INF Grant Green, whom the Nationals designated for assignment on Friday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse.