(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
It was supposed to be the night that newly-acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes took over Flushing. Someone never informed Lucas Duda though.
The blazing hot bat since the All-Star Break that has been Duda exploded for a pair of solo homers and a go-ahead double Saturday to bring the Mets within one game of the first-place Nationals in the NL East.
“I didn’t (sense that something like this was coming). I don’t know how you can,” said Mets’ manager Terry Collins regarding Duda’s hot streak. “What is he? Eight for his last 15 with eight homers and a double…It’s incredible. He is a tremendous worker and wants to be good. He is showing everyone what he can be.”
The night began as most have for New York’s lackluster offense. The Mets only managed to put two of their first 12 hitters aboard, before Duda teed off on Washington starter Joe Ross.
Ross kept the Mets off balance for much of his 6.1 innings of work, using a late-breaking two-seamer and slider to earn six strikeouts and induce 11 groundouts.
“For sure, we thought we were going to score some runs (tonight),” Collins stated. “That young man (Ross) is an outstanding young pitcher. He pitched very good against us in Washington also. He’s got great stuff, but this is a big series. Even though we didn’t score a lot of runs, it came at the right time.”
Meanwhile, Jacob DeGrom had his worst opening inning on the bump for New York in over three months. The right-hander and reigning NL Rookie of the Year didn’t DeGrominate the Nats in the top of the first, throwing 30 pitches, his second-highest total of the season, and allowing two runs in the process.
DeGrom eventually settled down, only giving up the two runs, but Duda picked up the slack.
Duda, who entered Saturday’s action with six homers in his last six games, took Ross deep to center in the bottom of the fourth to cut the deficit in half.
Then, in the seventh, Duda again incited the second-largest crowd in Citi Field history. This time, he drove Ross’ first offering over the left-field fence to tie the game at 2-2. The two-dinger performance was Duda’s fifth multi-homer showing of the season and 11th of his career.
He wasn’t done there. In the eighth, Duda stepped to the plate with two on and one out. After Curtis Granderson led off with a double, the Mets’ opposition was faced with a question we haven’t seen all year.
The question being: Which power hitter do we face?
The Mets haven’t been the beneficiary of the “pick your poison” hitter; rather opposing teams have made it all too familiar for the team that plays in Flushing.
Nonetheless, Cespedes was intentionally walked with the open base to set the stage for the streaking Duda.
Duda soon drove in Granderson with an opposite field RBI double to put New York in front for good.
“I wasn’t sure what he was going to do,” Duda said about the intentional-walk decision. “I really take the ego out of it…He’s (Matt Thornton) tough on lefties, so I was just trying to put the ball in play and put a good swing on it.”
Not to be outdone, the Mets’ bullpen, just two days removed from its roughest outing of the season, was strong for a second-consecutive night.
In the top of the eighth, Hansel Robles preserved the 2-2 tie by impressively striking out both Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
“It’s not just in the ninth inning that you save games,” commented Collins about Robles’ inning of work out of the bullpen. “You got the heart of the order up in a one-run game in the eighth inning…That becomes the biggest part of the game for me. There has got to be a time that you pick a spot in the game and that guy gets a save…That tonight was the eighth inning, for sure.”
Heading into Sunday’s finale, the Mets are in search of their first three-game sweep of the Nationals since 2009. First place is at their fingertips…Now it’s up to Collins’ squad to reach out and grab it.
“We are very excited (with the way we are playing),” Collins said. “Tomorrow night is a big game. We can really get right where we want to be. I know Noah is all fired up about it, so it’s going to be a good night for us, I hope.”