WASHINGTON - The Mets have spoken often about what it will take to make themselves into playoff contenders. But in Thursday's 6-3 victory over the Nationals, they turned those words into actions.

In Matt Harvey's first start since Tommy John surgery, the Mets took advantage of some lucky bounces and an error to give their returning ace a four-run cushion in the third.

"We caught a couple of breaks," manager Terry Collins said. "We didn't happen to mash the ball that one inning. But it's about putting it where nobody's standing. Our guys, they're very confident that if we put the ball in play, we can score runs."

The Mets' fortunes turned with one out and a runner on first in the third when shortstop Ian Desmond committed his third costly error of the series. He botched what could have been an inning-ending double-play grounder by David Wright.

Stephen Strasburg compounded the problems by plunking Lucas Duda on the back foot with a 1-and-2 curveball to load the bases.

Michael Cuddyer and Daniel Murphy followed with RBI singles. Murphy's proved most fitting for the inning, a high chopper off the plate that he managed to leg out.

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But it was Travis d'Arnaud who delivered the biggest blow. With two outs and the bases loaded, he flared a two-run single into centerfield.

"That's huge [when] you get an extra opportunity to score a run or get a hit," d'Arnaud said. "It's 27 outs, but if you're fortunately given another one, you've got to take advantage of it."

None of it would have happened without Desmond's latest error.

On Monday, Desmond dropped a two-out pop-up in the sixth, extending the inning for Duda's two-run single, and made a poor throw in the seventh, setting up d'Arnaud's RBI triple. That made all three runs unearned in the Mets' 3-1 win.

Thursday only added to Desmond's growing tally. In taking two of three from the Nationals, the Mets scored 10 runs, with six unearned coming after miscues by Desmond.

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"We were able to take advantage of the mistakes again," Cuddyer said. "Any time a major-league baseball team can give you mistakes, you have to be able to take advantage of it. That's what good teams do, and we were able to do that in this series."