Mets 3, Nationals 1

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WASHINGTON (AP)—The New York Mets got a tiebreaking homer from little-used Michael Tucker, 2 1-3 innings of scoreless relief and a sliding grab on the gravel by Carlos Delgado for the final out.

The Washington Nationals made three fielding errors, star rookie Ryan Zimmerman committed a base-running gaffe and catcher Brian Schneider stormed out of the clubhouse with an expletive-laden tirade.

Any doubts as to which team has the National League’s best record and which is last in the NL East?

On a Mets club filled with All-Stars and MVP candidates, it was spare part Tucker who came through with a solo shot in the eighth inning on the only pitch he saw Sunday to lift the Mets to a 3-1 victory over the Nationals.

Tucker was released by the Nationals in spring training, signed a minor league deal with the Mets in April and was called up Wednesday when Cliff Floyd went on the DL.

“Every day, it’s a new guy,” said New York’s Jose Valentin, who added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly off Jon Rauch (3-3) in the ninth. “He was today. Tomorrow, who knows who it’s going to be?”

The Mets got plenty of key contributions, including Delgado’s nice play with two on and two outs in the ninth. Known more for his slugging than smooth fielding, he ran toward the stands, going from sunny territory into the shade, and reached out to catch Brandon Harper’s foul popup. That finished off Billy Wagner’s 28th save.

Then there was Steve Trachsel’s 6 2-3 innings of one-run ball, the only blemish being Alfonso Soriano’s 38th homer of the season and 200th of his career. And submariner Chad Bradford (4-2) got Soriano to ground out with the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied in the seventh.

“Very tough,” Soriano said, “to pick up the ball.”

Tucker had no such trouble on Rauch’s fastball, connecting for his first homer in more than a year.

“Mainly all you’re trying to do is get a good pitch and not miss it,” said Tucker, who played down his connection to the Nationals, adding: “That’s in the past. You can’t dwell on that.”

Tucker entered Sunday to play left field during a double-switch in the bottom of the seventh, when Bradford entered to face Soriano.

Bradford left after yielding a one-out single in the eighth to Zimmerman. When the next batter, Nick Johnson, lofted a lazy fly to center off Darren Oliver, Zimmerman—thinking there were two outs—rounded second and headed to third. The mistake allowed the Mets to complete the 8-4-3 double play, with second baseman Valentin jogging the ball most of the way over to first before flipping to Delgado.

“It was a hit-and-run, and I just thought there were two outs, so I just kept going, and that’s it,” Zimmerman said. “You feel pretty bad. By the time I realized it, there was nothing I could do.”

Said Nationals manager Frank Robinson: “You’re surprised anytime anything like that happens on a baseball field. Have I had it happen? Yes. Should it happen? No.”

There were more miscues that upset Robinson, including errors by Schneider and second baseman Marlon Anderson that led to an unearned run in the seventh. He also didn’t like the pitch Rauch threw Tucker.

“It wasn’t location. It was selection of pitch, period,” Robinson said. “That’s all that is—a catcher and a pitcher not being in tune with the situation.”

Told about those remarks, Schneider responded: “There are 160 pitches a game and if he wants to say that about one pitch and one time during the game, he has that opinion, he is entitled to that opinion. Obviously you don’t want to throw a pitch exactly where it was. If the pitch was in a different location we would’ve had a different result.”

Moments later, Schneider was asked about his throwing error on David Wright’s steal attempt that helped produce the Mets’ tying run in the seventh. That’s when the catcher began cursing and yelling and knocked over a chair on his way out of the room.

His club is 51-66, a year after winning 50 of its first 81 games and spending part of the summer in first place. The Mets, meanwhile, are 71-45, the fastest they’ve reached 70 wins since 1986, the last time they won the World Series.

“Today was one of those days where you kind of feel like you stole one,” New York manager Willie Randolph said. “Real good teams do that.”

Notes

Wagner’s 312th save moved him into sole possession of 15th place on baseball’s career list. … Tucker’s last homer came July 17, 2005, for San Francisco at Los Angeles. … Washington has played eight consecutive games decided by three runs or fewer, going 2-6.

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