WASHINGTON (AP) — Dillon Gee lost track of the count and pulled off a bad acting job that fooled his own manager. Daniel Murphy didn't stop running from second on a groundball to third, scoring the crucial insurance run. Bryce Harper failed to hustle on a grounder, prompting the substitute manger to proclaim: "It's something we've got to fix."
Such little dramas make for fascinating baseball, enough to make the New York Mets' 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Friday night something more than a playing-out-the-string team beating one trying to keep faint hopes alive.
Gee (10-9) mastered the Nationals the way he always does, allowing six hits and two solo home runs over 7 2-3 innings and outdueling Jordan Zimmermann (15-8) as the Mets won for only the third time in nine games. Gee is 7-2 lifetime against Washington.
His weird moment came when he flexed his arm awkwardly after a pitch to Ian Desmond in the seventh inning. The manager and trainer rushed onto the field, only to learn that Gee had lost track of the count. Gee thought he had struck out Desmond and was genuflecting to save face after realizing there were only two strikes.
"I feel bad. I felt like an idiot out there," Gee said. "I tried to play it off and played it off the wrong way and then they come out. It was just a disaster."
Gee then got Desmond to swing at a low pitch for strike three.
It was Murphy's hustle that gave the Mets a 3-1 lead in the eighth. On second base after a two-out double, he didn't slow down after Andrew Brown hit a smash down the line. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made the stop, but he unwisely uncorked a no-hope throw to first on the run. Adam LaRoche couldn't field the short hop, allowing Murphy to score easily while Brown got credit for a single and an RBI.
"Coming around third there, once I thought Zimmerman was going to throw it to first, and I felt like I could make the play at the plate," Murphy said. "If he puts in his pocket, I'm dead."
Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, in charge for most of the game after manager Davey Johnson left the dugout due to illness, couldn't blame Zimmerman for not eating the ball.
"In his mind, he's trying to get the out," Knorr said. "I bet he's thinking right now that maybe I should've done it that way, but he's made great plays so you can't fault him for that."
Knorr had stronger words for Harper, the 20-year-old slugger who came to the plate with men on first and second and two outs in a one-run game.
With a 3-0 count against reliever Scott Rice — and with hot-hitting Jayson Werth on deck — Harper swung at an inside pitch and fouled it off. Then he swung again at 3-1 — "probably ball four," he called it — and hit a grounder to second, where Murphy bobbled the ball but could take his time recovering because Harper wasn't hustling to first.
Knorr doesn't fault himself for giving Harper the green light — and he's fine with Harper swinging at the pitch — but he wants to see the young slugger run out the grounder.
"I don't think he does it intentionally, but he's going to have to start picking it up a little bit because we've got everybody else doing it," Knorr said. "And he gets frustrated at times and it just comes out in him.
"It's something that we've got to fix. ... He's got a lot going on. It's hard for me to say; I'm not 20 years old in the big leagues with stuff going on around me. It's something we've got to get to the bottom of, and keep talking to him because eventually we're just going to have to take him out of the game."
Asked what happened on the play, Harper said: "I have no clue. Groundout to Murphy, he's pretty good over there, so in that situation I think he makes that play every single day."
Told what Knorr said about the play, Harper replied: "I'll guess I learn from it."
The Nationals, who began the day 6½ games behind the Cincinnati Reds for the NL's second wild-card spot, lost for just the second time in 10 games.
Gee faced three batters above the minimum through seven innings. The only scoreboard damage came on Wilson Ramos' homer to lead off the third and pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi's two-out solo shot in the eighth.
Zimmermann, who remains tied with Adam Wainwright for the NL lead in wins, allowed three runs and six hits over 7 2-3 innings. He didn't allow a hit until Murphy's single to lead off the fourth, but that was followed two batters later by Ike Davis' opposite-field home run.
Notes: Knorr said Johnson left the dugout sometime around the fourth inning. "He's fine. I think he's coming down with something," Knorr said. "He got a little light-headed, so he just went back upstairs. I think he might be catching a cold or something." ... LaTroy Hawkins pitched the ninth for his sixth save. ... Nationals CF Denard Span stretched his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games, while Harper's 11-game hitting streak came to an end.
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