WASHINGTON — The NL East race is, indeed, a race.
In beating the Nationals, 13-6, on Sunday, the Mets snagged their eighth win in nine games, putting themselves firmly back into the playoff picture with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
For the third time in three days, the Mets lost a noteworthy lead and needed late rallies to end up on top. Patrick Mazeika’s sacrifice fly in the eighth inning put them ahead for good, and Kevin Pillar’s grand slam highlighted a six-run ninth inning.
At 69-68, the Mets are 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the division. That is a huge jump from the 8 1/2-game deficit they woke up to on Aug. 28. The Phillies are in second place, two games back.
"Realistically, we gotta just go out there and take care of business," Pillar said. "We can’t constantly stare at the scoreboard."
After the series finale against the Nationals on Monday and a three-game set against the Marlins this week, the Mets’ schedule gets tougher, including a homestand against the Yankees, Cardinals and Phillies (then a road trip to Boston and Milwaukee). Philly and Atlanta have what appear to be easier schedules.
Appropriately, the Mets finish the season with a series in Atlanta. They will have a shot if they can get within three games back going into that final weekend.
"If we can keep it within reach," Pillar said, "it’ll be a hell of a series going into Atlanta."
On one of Mets’ best offensive days of the year, Javier Baez led the way by going 4-for-4 with a home run, a steal, two RBIs and three runs scored. Manager Luis Rojas was happy that Baez, who frequently swings at pitches outside of the strike zone, did not do that.
"If he can control the zone like he did today, he’s going to be a better offensive player," he said. "With this approach, everyone is pretty excited about it. He can make this lineup so deep."
Pete Alonso went 3-for-5. Jonathan Villar, Michael Conforto (three RBIs), Jeff McNeil and Pillar had two hits. Even without Brandon Nimmo, who suffered a strained hamstring Saturday, the Mets scored their most runs in seven weeks.
"It’s the type of things that make you believe in the consistency that this group can have lineup-wise, no matter who we’re matching up against," Rojas said. "But seeing the guys do that today, especially losing one of our better offensive players, it gives a lot of confidence to the entire group."
This game was never a pitchers’ duel. Nationals righthander Josiah Gray — one of the prospect prizes from their trade-deadline fire sale — allowed six runs in three innings. Mets righthander Taijuan Walker lasted 4 1/3 innings but also allowed six runs.
They combined to throw 67 pitches and allow seven runs in a first inning that took 40 minutes.
Against Grey, the first five Mets batters reached base, including Conforto (two-run single) and Baez (RBI single). Villar added a solo shot in the second, and Baez did the same in the third.
Against Walker, Lane Thomas and Josh Bell went deep in the first inning. He seemed to settle in after that but fell apart again in the fifth, when four consecutive singles — including Juan Soto’s two-run rocket up the middle — and a wild pitch tied it.
Walker has a 7.36 ERA since the All-Star break.
"I just didn’t do my job today," he said.
For once, though, it was the hitters bailing out the pitchers. Rare have been the days when that is true, and rarer still are the occasions when much of the lineup is hot at the same time.
"It’s a huge relief," Pillar said. "We don’t feel like as if one person has to carry the team."