Max Scherzer wins battle of aces as Washington Nationals edge New York Mets

By Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 24, 2017 at 6:31 PM
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NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals have officially been in playoff preparation mode for two weeks. On Sunday afternoon, they staged a dress rehearsal for October.

Max Scherzer outdueled Jacob deGrom in a matchup of ace right-handers and Nationals relievers Sammy Solis and Brandon Kintzler wriggled out of jams in the last two innings as Washington edged the New York Mets 3-2 at Citi Field.

"This is what the playoffs (are) going to be all about," said Nationals manager Dusty Baker, whose team clinched the National League East on Sept. 10. "Low-scoring, one-run games a lot of times. And we've got to have somebody, if (the Nationals) get in trouble, (who) can bail everybody out."

The biggest rescue Sunday was performed by Solis, who inherited a bases-loaded, two-out jam from the normally reliable Ryan Madson in the eighth. Madson, who allowed a run in one of his first 18 appearances with the Nationals, was charged with a run on three hits and a walk before Solis came back from a 3-1 deficit to strike out pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki.

"This is what their job is -- they're going to come in sometimes in tough situations," Baker said. "It was good to have some interchangeable parts like that."

Solis, who was sidelined with left elbow inflammation for more than two months in the first half, has thrown eight straight scoreless innings over his last nine appearances, a stretch in which he's lowered his overall ERA from 9.37 to 6.29.

"I think a lot of people expect there to be a little bit of a lull, clinching so early," Solis said. "But having games like this going into the last week of the season is huge for us just because we can kind of feel out how we want to play these situations."

Baker continued to tinker in the ninth, when he used Kintzler in place of usual closer Sean Doolittle. Kintzler allowed a pair of hits but stranded the tying and winning runs in scoring position by retiring Nori Aoki on a comebacker. The save was the 29th of the season for Kintzler but his first since the Nationals acquired him from the Minnesota Twins on July 31.

The high-wire act may have bolstered the Cy Young candidacy of Scherzer, who improved to 16-6 after allowing one run on three hits and one walk while striking out 10 over six innings. Scherzer, who threw his third-fewest pitches (87) of the season on an 87-degree day, has 15 double-digit strikeout games of the season and leads the NL with 263 whiffs while ranking second in ERA (2.55) and fourth in wins.

"Everything's been turned up with a focus on trying to get everybody dialed in for the playoffs," Scherzer said. "Everybody's trying to make those fine-tune adjustments to get on top of their game so that when we do get in the playoffs, you're already accustomed to knowing how you need to play."

Trea Turner gave the Nationals (94-61) the lead for good with a two-run homer in the third inning. Jose Lobaton had two hits, including an RBI single in the fifth.

Brandon Nimmo homered in the first for the Mets (66-89) while Jose Reyes had two hits, including an RBI single in the eighth, and two stolen bases. Amed Rosario and Juan Lagares each had two hits.

DeGrom (15-10) allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and no walks while striking out 11 over six innings. It was the 11th double-digit strikeout game of the season for deGrom, who has 239 whiffs and trails only Scherzer in the NL strikeout race.

In addition, deGrom reached 200 innings pitched for the first time. He ranks third in the NL with 201 1/3 innings.

"It's definitely big for me," deGrom said of surpassing 200 innings. "I think that's something I wanted to get to, to know what it's like to pitch that many innings."

DeGrom is the only member of the Mets' vaunted rotation to remain on the major league roster all season.

"With the breakdown of the pitching staff, he turned into the ace," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When you lost a few in a row, you were always looking to see when he was going to pitch again."

NOTES: The dual 10-strikeout games by Washington Nationals RHP Max Scherzer and New York Mets RHP Jacob deGrom marked the third time this season both starters recorded at least 10 strikeouts. Milwaukee Brewers RHP Jimmy Nelson was involved in both, first against Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw on June 2 and then against Nationals RHP Tanner Roark on Sept. 1. ... Mets manager Terry Collins said RHP Noah Syndergaard would make one more start this season. Syndergaard started Saturday night and threw an inning in his first appearance since he tore his right lat Apr. 30. ... The Washington Post reported that Nationals RF Bryce Harper (left knee), who hasn't played since Aug. 12, could return to the team Monday. Manager Dusty Baker said afterward " ... we're still trying to make up our minds" and that a decision would be reached by Monday.

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