NEW YORK (AP) — Nationals closer Sean Doolittle became a favorite at Citi Field after blowing a three-run lead Friday night. Mets fans cheered the All-Star closer when he went to the bullpen Saturday, and on Sunday, they clapped and hollered when his name was announced to pitch the ninth.
“The fans, they were on me a little bit, and it’s all good,” Doolittle said.
Doolittle and the Nationals finally got the last laugh. The left-hander pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 26th save and Washington closed out the Mets for a 7-4 victory Sunday. The Nats had blown five consecutive save chances in Flushing and entered the game with a 6.07 ERA, worst in the National League.
The Mets ended a season-best eight-game winning streak and lost for the second time in 17 games. That magical run had fans drooling with Doolittle coming out of the bullpen, but the 32-year-old got back on top of his game in time to hold off a rival NL wild-card contender.
“In a weird way, it relaxed me a little bit,” Doolittle said of the cheers. “I’m at my best when I’m able to have a little bit of fun with it in those situations.”
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a tiebreaking two-run double against his former team and the Nationals bullpen allowed just one hit over the final three innings. The teams will not play again in New York unless they meet in the postseason. The key three-game series averaged 41,492 fans to create a playoff atmosphere throughout the weekend.
Nationals star Juan Soto sprained his right ankle on Cabrera’s bases-loaded hit in the seventh inning. Soto went from first to third but turned his right ankle after getting a late stop sign from third base coach Bob Henley. He spiked his helmet, was worked on by trainers in the outfield grass, and ultimately came out of the game. X-rays were negative and Soto’s considered day to day.
Victor Robles replaced Soto and homered off All-Star Edwin Díaz in the ninth, and Anthony Rendon had four hits.
Jeff McNeil had two hits and two RBIs, but New York dropped 1 1/2 games behind Washington for the top NL wild card.
“We went 6-1 on the homestand,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I don’t think you can ask for a better homestand than that.”
Adam Eaton began the seventh-inning rally with a one-out single off Robert Gsellman (2-3). The pesky right fielder moved to second on Rendon’s single and advanced to third when McNeil briefly overran the ball.
After a pitching change, Soto walked to load the bases and Cabrera lined Justin Wilson’s first offering into right field to drive in Eaton and Rendon. Soto was tagged out to end the inning.
Cabrera spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Mets before being traded to Philadelphia in 2018. He opted to sign with Washington instead of returning to New York after being released by Texas.
“Looking at the waiver wire and the DFAs and we were able to pick up a really good player,” manager Dave Martinez said.
“This team has a lot of talent,” Cabrera said. “I’m just here to help the team win.”
The Mets threatened against the beleaguered Washington bullpen in the seventh. McNeil doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on Amed Rosario’s single. Michael Conforto delivered a sacrifice fly to draw the Mets within one, but Daniel Hudson, Wander Suero and Dootlittle combined for 2 1/3 hitless innings to secure the win. Matt Grace (1-2) pitched one-third of an inning to earn the win.
New York ace Jacob deGrom allowed three unearned runs with seven strikeouts over five innings. He failed to reach the sixth inning for the first time in five starts but lowered his ERA in day games to 1.84, which is the best mark in baseball since at least 1913.
The Nationals went ahead 3-0 in the first inning on a bizarre bases-loaded error. Cabrera hit a two-out grounder that first baseman Pete Alonso dived to stop, and Alonso threw toward first base. The feed would have hit deGrom in stride, except the pitcher paused momentarily a few feet from the base and then let the ball bounce off his glove. It rolled to near the Mets’ on-deck circle, where deGrom chased it down and threw to home plate. Catcher Wilson Ramos dropped the throw, allowing Soto to come in with the third unearned run of the play. Alonso was charged with an error.
“If I make that play, we’re probably still playing baseball,” Alonso said. “Really tough pill to swallow.”
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (back) “felt really good” following Saturday’s bullpen session, according to Martinez. He is lined up for a simulated game on Tuesday. … 2B Brian Dozier (rest) was held out of the lineup for the second straight game, although Martinez also noted that Dozier’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child “any time soon.” He flew out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
Mets: There is still no timeframe for a rehab assignment for ailing OF Brandon Nimmo (neck) and IF Jed Lowrie (knee).
Nationals: Washington returns home to open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. RHP Erick Fedde (2-2, 4.20 ERA) pitches for the Nationals. He’s opposed by RHP Anthony DeSclafani (7-6, 4.20 ERA).
Mets: After a day off, RHP Zack Wheeler (9-6, 4.20 ERA) pitches for New York as the Mets open an important three-game series with the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. RHP Max Fried (13-4, 4.11 ERA) pitches for the Braves.
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