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Jason Vargas' arm, Jay Bruce's bat help lift Mets over Nationals

Jason Vargas pitched a stellar six innings against

Jason Vargas pitched a stellar six innings against Nationals on Friday night. Credit: Jim McIsaac

In an alternative timeline in which the Mets and Nationals live up to their preseason expectations, Friday night’s showdown at Citi Field could have been of great significance — for the division race, for the wild card, for the rivalry — and maybe even a playoff preview.

Instead, the Mets’ 3-0 win was just another step in the attempted redemptions of Jason Vargas (six scoreless innings) and Jay Bruce (home run).

Vargas struck out a season-high eight, walked none and allowed three hits in his best start as a Met. His ERA is down to 6.96, its lowest point of the year.

His greatest feat came in the fourth, when he struck out the middle of the Nationals’ lineup in order. Bryce Harper went down looking at an 87.7-mph fastball on the outer edge of the plate, a call he disagreed with. Ryan Zimmerman whiffed on a changeup that tailed down and away. Juan Soto, the 19-year-old Rookie of the Year candidate, worked a 3-and-1 count but then watched consecutive mid-70s curveballs for strikes. And in the fifth, Vargas struck out three more.

“It’s nice to have the ball doing the same thing you are looking for it to do,” said Vargas, who has a 2.07 ERA in his past three starts. “Just getting into a good rhythm is nice.”

The Mets managed a lone run off Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, who lasted seven innings. Wilmer Flores drove in Amed Rosario with a single in the first.

Bruce’s blast, a two-run shot to right-center, came in the eighth. It was the highlight of a 1-for-4 effort in his first game back from a two-month stint on the disabled list with hip and feet problems, and it was his first homer since May 7 in Cincinnati.

“It’s a little bit of a rejuvenation, getting out there and coming back — the lights, the energy, the fans,” said Bruce, still in full uniform more than 10 minutes after the last out. “It makes you thankful to be here. Rehabbing so long, playing in rehab games in the minor leagues. It’s good to be back.”

In the first season of his three-year, $39-million contract, he is hitting .213 with a .625 OPS and four homers. He believes his issues at the plate in the first half were linked to his physical issues, with the hip strain specifically robbing him of his power.

“Obviously, I’ve been injured and underperformed,” he said. “Neither of those things were on my list of things to do coming back to New York. It’s not something I’m happy about or proud of, but I can only move forward.

“I have a little over a month this year and I have two more seasons to right the ship and be the player I’ve been pretty much my whole career. I think people know that and I think people are going to see that.”

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