Max Scherzer delivered a dominant performance, holding the Mets to two hits across 7 1/3 shutout innings, and Daniel Murphy hit two home runs to guide the Nationals to a 4-2 victory Wednesday night at Nationals Park to complete a three-game sweep.
"It's big to be able to sweep these guys," Scherzer said. "I know it's only June, but any time you can sweep your divisional opponents that's huge."
Murphy continued his push to start the All-Star Game with a solo homer in the second, then a two-run shot in the eighth, his career-high-tying 14th of the season.
"You like playing well against division opponents," Murphy said. "Those games, they just count extra...as good as the ballclub is, as good as that staff is, as good as that middle of the lineup can be, it's good to get three from them."
Scherzer overpowered an undermanned Mets lineup for 10 strikeouts, his fourth consecutive double-digit strikeout game. Shawn Kelley recorded a four-out save to seal the sweep and put six games between the Nats and Mets in the National League East.
Mets right-hander Logan Verrett filled in nicely for Steven Matz, pushed back a day as he manages bone spurs in his elbow. Verrett allowed two runs on four hits in five innings.
James Loney's two-run homer in the ninth spoiled the Nats' shutout bid.
"We've still got 11 games before the All-Star break," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who had hoped not to lose any ground to the Nationals between the start of this series and the end of the first half. "We've just got to go play them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bringing the heat: Scherzer received a standing ovation as he walked off the mound in the eighth inning after another stellar performance. He dominated the Mets for much of the night, scattering two hits and one walk with 10 strikeouts as he threw some of the hardest pitches he has all season. It started with a 98.5 mph fastball to Yoenis Cespedes in the first, the hardest pitch he has thrown all year and continued for the entire outing. He threw 14 pitches at 97 mph or higher, the most he has thrown all year. Scherzer said he made a mechanical adjustment, although he did not want to specify what, in between outings that may have helped give him extra velocity.
"I really thought what i changed really helped put some life on the fastball," Scherzer said. "That's why I think you saw a lot of foul balls straight back and that's typical when the fastball has that extra little giddyup, that's when the foul balls, they're just ticking it and [catcherWilson Ramos] takes the brunt of it. ... So I was able to rebound from that start in Milwaukee and really come with a good start tonight when we needed it."
Giving them a chance: Verrett did his part for the Mets, dancing in and out of trouble to deliver five innings of two-run ball. Starting in place of Matz, Verrett received little help from his offense. But he struck out Murphy with two men on base and two outs in the third inning, and induced a pair of double plays to keep the Mets in the game.
"I was even hoping to go one more if I could," Verrett said. "I think all in all, I was able to keep us there, so overall I was happy with it."
Hello old friend: Murphy, who has built a strong case to start the All-Star Game next month, continued to crush his former team with a pair of home runs. In nine games against the Mets this year, he is batting .429 (15-for-35) with four homers and 11 RBIs.
"It's just obvious that he wants to beat 'em up," Scherzer said with a laugh. "It's obvious. Everybody wants to. When you face your former team, you obviously wanna get the best of them."
Murphy's deposited his first home run into the right-field seats in the second, which traveled an estimated distance of 424 feet according to Statcast™, tied for his second-longest homer of the season.
"It wasn't a good pitch, but I didn't think it was a pitch that most guys would hit out of the park like that," Verrett said of Murphy's first home run. "Gosh."
Murphy's second homer provided two valuable insurance runs in the 8th.
"I don't know. They just keep going over the fence," Murphy said. "It's a lot of work last year in New York and a lot of continued work here with [hitting coaches] Rick [Schu] and Jacque Jones." More >
Fizzling offense: A makeshift Mets lineup rallied once, and only once, against Scherzer.Asdrubal Cabrera sparked it with a one-out single in the second inning, moving to second base on a Kelly Johnson walk. But the next two batters, Brandon Nimmo and Rene Rivera, both struck out, the first of 18 in a row to go down against Scherzer. It was not until the eighth inning that Nimmo recorded the Mets' second hit, chasing Scherzer from the game.
"You've got to look at everything involved when you're not hitting, and obviously when you're facing a great pitcher like Max," Collins said. "We're just not even giving ourselves chances."More >
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: Still licking their wounds from this week's series sweep, the Mets will travel home for a four-game series against baseball's best team, the Cubs. Matz, who had his start pushed back due to a bone spur in his elbow, will start Thursday's 7:10 p.m. ET opener opposite right-hander John Lackey.
Nationals: Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will close out a rocky month of June as the Nationals host the Reds in the opener a four-game series at Nationals Park on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Gonzalez has posted a 7.16 ERA in five starts this month where opponents are hitting .300/.381/.427 against him.