Nats have no an­swer for deGrom in fi­nale

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

new york — The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als rec­og­nized the stiffest test of their four days in Flush­ing awaited them Sun­day af­ter­noon. He stood a lanky 6 feet 4, with a long, flow­ing mane un­der a pow­der blue New York Mets Fa­ther’s Day ball cap, and he was the rea­son Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker stressed seiz­ing the first three games of the se­ries.

Ja­cob deGrom stood in the way of a Na­tion­als sweep, of adding gravy to an em­phatic re­sponse to an un­sa­vory home­s­tand, and he did not budge. The right-han­der sti­fled Wash­ing­ton over eight bril­liant in­nings as some mis­for­tune de­railed Joe Ross’s out­ing, and the Na­tion­als took their first loss in seven games at Citi Field this sea­son, 5-1.

The Na­tion­als (42-27) scored an un­earned run four bat­ters into the game on Ryan Zim­mer­man’s sac­ri­fice fly, but that was all they could col­lect against deGrom. Trea Turner had a hit, a walk and set a Na­tion­als record with four steals, but the Wash­ing­ton of­fense posted just three hits and a walk oth­er­wise against deGrom and right-han­der Ad­di­son Reed. DeGrom pitched with mul­ti­ple run­ners on base just once af­ter that first in­ning, slugged his first ca­reer home run off Ross in the third and ended his day af­ter toss­ing an eco­nom­i­cal 105 pitches.

“You got to put it on deGrom,” Baker said. “We knew he was go­ing to be tough go­ing into to­day be­cause they don’t want to be swept at home.”

DeGrom out­lasted Ross, who bat­tled the Mets (31-37) and a cou­ple of bad breaks over six in­nings with a re­vamped changeup at his dis­posal. Ross’s in­con­sis­tency has emerged as one of the Na­tion­als’ few wor­ries out­side their bullpen. Be­fore Sun­day, his out­ings vac­il­lated be­tween gems and de­ba­cles, with very lit­tle in be­tween. The Na­tion­als be­lieve the ex­treme vari­a­tion stemmed from a shift­ing arm slot, which they con­tend pro­duces a flat­tened slider and lim­its his en­durance. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween Ross be­ing lights-out and throw­ing bat­ting prac­tice.

Fur­ther, a flat slider pre­sented

a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for Ross be­cause he has re­lied heav­ily on just two pitches — the slider and a sinker — with the change-up a dis­tant third in his ar­se­nal. The lim­ited reper­toire granted him lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror. But Ross de­buted a slightly dif­fer­ent change-up Sun­day, a slower one de­signed to cre­ate more dis­crep­ancy be­tween it and his sinker. He threw 11 of them. The Mets swung at seven and whiffed three times.

“It’s huge be­cause when he can slow it down to the speed that he had to­day, the hit­ters have to make a con­scious ef­fort to be able to hit it,” Na­tion­als catcher Matt Wi­eters said. “As op­posed to ac­ci­den­tally hit­ting it be­cause it’s too close to the fast­ball.”

But the change-up couldn’t shield Ross from the tough luck dished his way. Af­ter Zim­mer­man saved two runs with a div­ing snag in the sec­ond in­ning, the Mets cleanly se­cured their first run on deGrom’s lead­off home run in the third, a blast to left-cen­ter field that tem­po­rar­ily upped the pitcher’s bat­ting av­er­age to .300.

New York then was the re­cip­i­ent of a cou­ple of breaks in the fourth in­ning as it took its first lead at home against the Na­tion- als this sea­son. It started when the sun pre­vented Daniel Mur­phy from catch­ing a rou­tine popup in shal­low right field off Lu­cas Duda’s bat to lead off the frame.

“I was hop­ing one of our out­field­ers would have been kind of close enough to help Murph on that ball,” Baker said.

But no out­fielder was in sight, and the ball dropped. Duda later scored on Travis d’Ar­naud’s sin­gle to cen­ter field — but only be­cause Wi­eters, who duped Duda into thinking a throw wasn’t com­ing, couldn’t hold on to the ball af­ter ap­ply­ing a tag. Duda didn’t slide but kicked the ball out of Wi­eters’s glove af­ter the home plate um­pire ini­tially called him out. Wi­eters was charged with an er­ror, and the run gave the Mets their first home lead against the Na­tion­als this sea­son af­ter 591/ in­nings.

3 New York then scored its third run when Michael Conforto’s hard-hit ground­ball bounced off the glove of a div­ing An­thony Ren­don. The ric­o­chet al­lowed T. J. Rivera to score the Mets’ sec­ond un­earned run of the in­ning.

“[Ross] threw the ball bet­ter than the num­bers show,” Wi­eters said.

Ross’s com­mand slipped in the sixth in­ning as he served up pitches over the plate, which the Mets con­verted into a fourth run. He con­cluded his per­for­mance with a dif­fi­cult play field­ing a swing­ing bunt by Jose Reyes on his 103rd pitch.

“The one in­ning was kind of tough,” said Ross, who al­lowed nine hits and struck out four. “I think the sun ball, the fact that it was the first hit­ter kind of sucks. But, over­all, I felt pretty good. I felt like I ex­e­cuted pitches pretty well, but [it] just didn’t go my way Mur­phy dou­bled off Reed in the ninth in­ning to ex­tend his streak of reach­ing base safely against his for­mer em­ployer to 29 games. But he ended the game at sec­ond base. The Na­tion­als went down qui­etly, but it was not a failed week­end. They are headed to Mi­ami with their di­vi­sion lead back in the dou­ble dig­its, weary but ea­ger for three more chances to widen that gap be­fore their first day off in three weeks.

JIM MCISAAC/GETTY IM­AGES

Na­tion­als starter Joe Ross was beaten by Mets ace Ja­cob deGrom at Citi Field on Sun­day.

KATHY WIL­LENS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mets right-han­der Ja­cob deGrom rounds the bases af­ter hit­ting a solo homer against Joe Ross. DeGrom pitched eight in­nings for the win.

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