NEW YORK -- If the Washington Nationals end up cruising to the National League East title while leaving the New York Mets flailing for a lifeline in the wild-card derby, both teams may look back on Friday and Saturday's victories by the Nationals as symbols of a division race that never fully developed.
But Nationals manager Dusty Baker would still prefer to find a less dramatic way to win.
A Nationals pitcher got the best of Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes in a key spot for the second straight game Saturday, when left-hander Enny Romero induced Cespedes to hit into the double play that produced the final two outs of Washington's 7-4 win at Citi Field.
On Friday night, Cespedes stepped to the plate with two outs in the eighth and the Mets down 4-1 against Nationals ace right-hander Max Scherzer, who whiffed Cespedes to cap an 11-pitch battle. Washington went on to win, 7-2.
As far as Baker is concerned, he'd rather not try to go 3-for-3 in Sunday's series finale.
"You're flirting with a rattlesnake," Baker said of Cespedes. "You're going to get bitten. So I'd rather not flirt with him."
Cespedes, who is 11-for-24 since coming off the disabled list June 10, bit the Nationals all day Saturday. He singled in his first three at-bats before launching a solo homer off Joe Blanton into the second deck in left field in the eighth inning.
Romero had already wriggled out of a jam in the eighth when he recorded the final two outs and whiffed potential go-ahead run Rene Rivera to strand two runners and thrown 30 pitches when Cespedes stepped to the plate following Michael Conforto's bloop single.
But Baker said taking his chances with the southpaw against the right-handed hitting slugger was the best option available to him. The Mets alternate lefties with righties beginning with Conforto -- Jay Bruce was on deck when Cespedes batted -- and Baker said the last lefty in his pen, Oliver Perez, was unavailable Saturday.
"We were hoping that Enny kept the ball down," Baker said. "When you've got great hitters like Cespedes, boy, you hope that he hits it at somebody. Because you know he rises to the occasion."
Romero, throwing sinkers, fell behind Cespedes 2-0 before Cespedes pulled the next pitch to third base, where Anthony Rendon began the 5-4-3 double play to close out Romero's second save.
"There's always a time of decision," Baker said. "And fortunately for us, Enny did his job today."
Romero's escape acts capped an afternoon in which the beleaguered Nationals bullpen -- it entered the day with a 5.17 ERA -- walked the tightrope against the Mets who had the tying or go-ahead run step to the plate in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
But despite allowing six hits, Romero and four other relievers combined to limit the Mets to two runs in relief of Stephen Strasburg (8-2). The right-hander allowed two runs, six hits and two walks while striking out five in 5 1/3 innings.
"Our bullpen did a great job," Baker said. "They got 11 outs - that's a lot of outs."
Trea Turner homered on the second pitch of the game for the Nationals (42-26), who have not trailed in winning the first three games of the four-game series. Washington is now 11 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Mets (30-37).
"This isn't football, so we don't do pep talks every night," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "The one thing I try to tell these guys every day -- I had a talk with two of the veteran guys yesterday -- is they can't get down about the situation."
Turner singled in the ninth and scored on a double by Rendon (2-for-4).
"Having back-end (bullpen) guys do well, having our starters do phenomenal, I think it's just a whole team effort," Lind said.
Wilmer Flores hit into a run-scoring double play in the fourth and lofted a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the Mets, who received an RBI single from Jose Reyes in the eighth. Cespedes scored three runs while Bruce (three singles) and Reyes (two singles) each had multiple hits.
Right-hander Seth Lugo (1-1) took the loss after giving up four runs (three earned), seven hits and two walks while striking out five in 6 2/3 innings.
"You've got to focus every pitch and a couple pitches got me today," Lugo said. "That happens."
NOTES: Mets LF Yoenis Cespedes had at least four hits in a game for the fifth time in his six-year career. ... The Mets have given up three leadoff homers in their last five games. ... Nationals RHP Shawn Kelley (neck) was unavailable. Manager Dusty Baker said Kelley was battling neck spasms Friday night when he showed decreased velocity while pitching in the ninth inning. ... Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy, who played for the Mets from 2008-15, has reached base in all 27 games he has played against his former club since signing with Washington in January 2016.