WASHINGTON — Because the Mets have spent the last month proving their proficiency at climbing uphill, they have earned themselves a useful luxury. While they remain locked in a tight wild-card race, they’ve done enough so that not every loss must be treated as doomsday.
Clearly, the Mets would have preferred to win on Wednesday, when Wilson Ramos’ seventh-inning solo shot lifted the Nationals to a 1-0 victory. And yes, the Mets would have liked to make the most of Robert Gsellman’s 5 2/3 shutout innings. Then, they would have won two of three games in the series, rather than dropping two of three.
But when it comes to what matters most — ensuring that they hold one of two wild cards before season’s end — the Mets neither helped nor hurt themselves. And on a day of defeat, they couldn’t ask for anything more.
“We’ve got ourselves right where we need to be,” manager Terry Collins said. “Yeah, today is tough when the other two teams lose. But they’re saying the same thing. They didn’t lose anything.”
The Mets enter the homestretch in the thick of a three-team race, half a game ahead of the Cardinals for the second wild card, and half a game behind the Giants for the first. But from here on out, the Mets will gain an encouraging push from an important ally: the schedule.
The Cardinals and Giants will duke it out in a four-game series beginning on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Mets will be off, returning to action on Friday to begin a three-game series against the lowly Twins.
“We’ve got a chance to do some damage if we take care of our own business,” said Collins, whose Mets will face opposition with a combined .424 winning percentage.
Ramos’ homer off reliever Fernando Salas was his 21st of the season and his 12th against the Mets in his career. It is the most homers he has hit against any other opponent.
Daniel Murphy singled in the first inning, giving him a hit in each of his 19 games this season against his former team, elevating the act of revenge into a new art form.
But the 4 p.m. start time created shadows that at first pitch shielded only the area at home plate, leaving the rest of the playing field awash in sun. It became a day for the pitchers.
Nationals righthander Tanner Roark extended his fine season, tossing seven shutout innings to lower his ERA to 2.75. Though he walked four, Roark limited the Mets to only three hits after working out of a critical jam in the first.
The struggling Jay Bruce struck out looking at a 93 mph fastball with one out and the bases loaded. With a .192 average since joining the Mets, Bruce’s rough afternoon only renewed debate about whether Collins should bench him in favor of Michael Conforto or Alejandro Aza.
T.J. Rivera flied out to end the inning. From there, Roark cruised.
Gsellman, 23, again proved equal to the task. He took his shutout into the sixth before stepping aside, another strong outing in the books after joining the rotation as an inexperienced replacement. He has a 3.08 ERA in five outings (four starts).
With the benefit of three double plays, and a little help from the sun, Gsellman said he gleaned some confidence after bouncing back from a four-run outing. The righthander said he was encouraged by his progress, important, because he’s been thrown into the fire in a race for the playoffs. The Mets will need him.
“We pitched well, they pitched well,” catcher Rene Rivera said. “Somebody had to win.”
Now, the Mets pull into their off day with some business to resolve.
Wilmer Flores will see doctors to check out his banged up right wrist, which knocked him out of action on Saturday. Meanwhile, Collins must figure out what he will do with Bruce’s playing time, and when Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz will be ready to help the rotation.
Collins will do with the Mets on steady footing, remarkable considering that their playoff hopes were nearly reduced to ash just only weeks ago.
“You don’t lose any ground,” Collins said, at the end of a 10-day road trip. “We didn’t drop out. We’re still right where we are. We’re going home in a wild-card hunt.”