So close and yet not there.
The streaking Mets had a crack at going from hunter to hunted on Sunday. If they could beat the Nationals again, they would overtake them in the standings and grab a wild-card spot. They did not complete the sweep, though, falling to Washington, 7-4, before 41,000 at Citi Field.
Although their winning streak ended at eight, the Mets remain in striking distance. They are 1½ games behind the Nationals for the first wild card and one game back of St. Louis for the second.
Old friend Asdrubal Cabrera sliced a two-out, two-run double to right off Justin Wilson to snap a 3-3 tie in the seventh. Cabrera played for the Mets the previous three seasons but opted to sign with the Nats over the Mets after Texas released him last week.
The Mets, however, did plenty to beat themselves. Pete Alonso’s throwing error led to three runs on a first-inning play. The Mets left two on base in the second, fifth and seventh, and after they crept within 5-4, Edwin Diaz gave up a two-out, two-run homer to Victor Robles in the ninth.
The Mets had won 15 of 16 entering the game, though almost all of that came against poor teams. By winning two of three from the Nationals, there is sentiment that they’ve made a statement.
“That was a big series,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We heard the chatter. We understand the schedule. All you can do is play it to the best of your ability, and we did that this series. Very solid team on the other side, and we took two out of three. We were 6-1 on the homestand. I don’t think you can ask for a better homestand than that.”
In their next 24 games, the Mets have six each against the Braves and Phillies and three against the Indians, Cubs and Nationals. Shortly after that, they have three against the Dodgers.
“We’ve had a challenge, and all of us rose to the occasion and answered the bell,” Alonso said. “No one has given up. We’re in the wild-card hunt, and if we keep it turned on, we have a chance to win the division.”
Added Jeff McNeil, whose two-run double keyed a three-run second: “You could say we have the best rotation in baseball, so I don’t see us as out of anything no matter who we’re going against.”
Jacob deGrom allowed three runs (all unearned), four hits and one walk in five innings, striking out seven. He was sabotaged by needing 34 pitches in the first inning, when the Nationals loaded the bases on two singles and a walk to Juan Soto. Matt Adams struck out looking for the second out, but Washington then scored three runs when a play that started perfectly went haywire.
Cabrera hit a rocket to first baseman Alonso, who dived to his right to collect it near the outfield grass and got up on one knee to throw to deGrom covering first. DeGrom slowed as he approached the base and had to reach for the throw, which went off his glove.
“I didn’t hit him in the chest,’’ Alonso said. “I threw it over the bag, but he wasn’t there yet.”
The ball rolled to the home plate side of the first-base dugout, and deGrom pursued it while the first two runners scored. He tried to cut down Soto at the plate, and would have, but the throw bounced and Wilson Ramos couldn’t hold on to it.
DeGrom, who was heading to Florida with family, wasn’t in the clubhouse after the game, but Callaway said the pitcher told him: “I should’ve had that.”
With the Mets down 5-3, McNeil doubled and Amed Rosario singled to put runners at the corners in the seventh. Michael Conforto’s sacrifice fly made it 5-4 before Alonso was hit by a pitch to get the tying run into scoring position. But J.D. Davis was called out on strikes and Ramos flied out.
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