WASHINGTON — Finally, the ketchup has come out of the bottle.
The Mets had been waiting for the game when the offense matched the pitching. That game came Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals when the Mets used an eight-run fifth inning to down their NL East foes 8-2 at Nationals Park.
“Kind of felt like our ABs kind of turned into something and we cashed them in,” said outfielder Mark Canha, who went 3-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. “It was only a matter of time before that happened. We’ve been having a lot of good ones, it feels like, lately. I think that’s something we need to continue moving forward.”
The Mets have remained somewhat optimistic during a difficult month but in recent days the positivity has been strained. Only hours earlier, the Mets went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine runners in the first game of the day, a 3-2 loss. They seemed flummoxed, both at the plate and in the clubhouse when asked about the nearly non-existent production.
But then came the top of the fifth. The Mets (20-21) were down 1-0 with the bottom of the order due up.
A single and an RBI double by Starling Marte and Canha, two hitters who have struggled more than others this season, tied the game at 1-1. A walk by Tommy Pham and a one-out single to the right-center gap by Brandon Nimmo gave the Mets a 2-1 lead.
All of the bad luck the Mets have had suddenly turned good.
Francisco Lindor legged out an infield hit with two outs to make it 3-1. Pete Alonso was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Brett Baty.
The Nationals (17-23) replaced Jake Irvin (1-1) with left-hander Mason Thompson and he walked Baty to put another run on the board. The Mets batted around and then some.
Marte’s fly ball dropped into no man’s land in center field and two more scored. Baty scored from third when Marte stole second and Canha singled up the center to score Marte and make it 8-1.
“Little tweak here and there finally something felt right,” Canha said.
It took the pressure off of Max Scherzer (3-2). Making his first start in nearly two weeks, Scherzer limited his former team to one earned run on two hits over five innings. He struck out six but walked two and hit one. It wasn’t his most efficient start but it was his best of the season with manager Buck Showalter calling it a “highlight.”
“All my offspeed pitches had the right shape, I was able to locate them and locate them when I needed to, especially with two strikes,” Scherzer said. “When I’m able to do that, it makes the fastball that much better.”
Maybe the most important aspect of Scherzer’s start was his velocity: He started around 93, sat comfortably at 94 and touched 95 in the middle. Finally pitching without some sort of nagging injury, Scherzer was able to get the fastball back to where it’s more effective.
“I don’t think he had to push to get to it,” Showalter said.
The next step for Scherzer is to go seven innings but with injuries bookending a suspension for sticky stuff, Scherzer hasn’t been able to establish any sort of routine and he hasn’t been able to give the Mets what they’ve needed.
This start felt like a step in the right direction.
“Today was the most winded I’ve felt in a start,” Scherzer said. “I felt like I was huffing and puffing, I wasn’t tired, but I was out of breath because the last six days I haven’t done a thing. I’ve been sitting in a neck brace. Now that I can get through this start, I can get back in my routine, get my running in so I’m physically fit. That way I can go out there and actually pitch better.”
The Mets’ bullpen bent, but didn’t break with Brooks Raley, Jeff Brigham and Zach Muckenhirn combining to go the rest of the way. Muckenhirn, the Mets’ 27th man for the doubleheader, went two innings and allowed one run.
“With Muck, it’s not easy to come up here knowing you’re going out as soon as the game is over, but that was big for us,” Showalter said.