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Nationals continue late push

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals' final homestand of the season will mean something. But the hottest team in the National League is hoping it won't be done playing games at Nationals Park once it plays the regular-season home finale on Sept. 22.

The Nationals completed a resounding four-game sweep of the New York Mets on Thursday with a 7-2 rout in front of a sparse announced crowd of 20,484 at Citi Field.

Washington (77-69) opened a 10-game road trip by splitting the first four games before winning the final six over the Miami Marlins and Mets by a 40-9 margin. The Nationals have gone 17-5 since Aug. 20 to move within 5 1/2 games of the Cincinnati Reds (83-64) in the race for the NL's second wild card spot.

"It's never a good spot when you need to win, but we've also got to count on a couple teams having some minor meltdowns," said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and two runs scored. "All we can do is control the outcome of our game. We had a great road trip. Keep that going at home and you never know. Crazier things have happened. But we're still not in a real good position."

The Nationals begin the homestand on Friday and will play host to the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves for three-game series before the Marlins visit Sept. 19-22.

"I take nothing for granted," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "Nobody else does either. We get a homestand, keep things going. A lot can happen in those 10 days."

A lot happened -- all of it good -- for the Nationals during four days in New York. Washington hit 13 homers, which shattered the previous record for most homers hit in a series at Citi Field (seven by the Yankees in June 2012).

LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Anthony Rendon all hit solo homers for the Nationals, who never trailed in the series.

Zimmerman, who has eight homers in his last 10 games, finished 2-for-4 with an RBI double in the eighth. The double was only his 10th hit during that span and his first hit other than a single or a homer.

The Nationals are averaging 5.5 runs per game since Aug. 20, up drastically from the 3.8 runs they averaged in the season's first 124 games.

"It makes it frustrating, seeing what we're doing now and knowing we didn't do that for the better part of four months," LaRoche said. "Nobody could pinpoint it. Now you're starting to see what this team can do. I'll never know what took us so long."

Tanner Roark came back from a 56-minute rain delay after the first inning and improved to 6-0 as he won for the second time in as many big league starts. Roark, who made his first nine appearances out of the bullpen, allowed two runs, six hits and one walk while striking out three in six innings as his ERA rose from 0.94 to 1.29.

Roark had only two 1-2-3 innings but stranded three runners at second base and benefited from Bryce Harper throwing out Mike Baxter as he tried to go from first to third on a single in the fourth.

"He made pitches when he had to," Johnson said. "With the delay in there, I cut him short."

Anthony Recker was 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the fourth for the Mets (64-81), who lost for the ninth time in 11 games as they clinched a fifth straight non-winning season. Eric Young had two singles, a run scored and a stolen base. Daniel Murphy had an RBI double in the first.

"You play a team as good as (the Nationals) are, you gotta do the little things right," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And we didn't do very many little things right."

Aaron Harang also remained in the game after the delay and took the loss in his Mets debut after allowing three runs -- all on solo homers -- four hits and one walk while striking out 10 in six innings. Harang signed with the Mets on Sept. 2, a day after he was released by the Mariners, for whom he went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA in 22 starts.

NOTES: Johnson, 27 years removed from managing the Mets to their most recent world championship, admitted that he grew sentimental during his pregame walk around Citi Field. Johnson is stepping down as Nationals manager at the end of the season. He is the Mets' career leader in wins (595), winning percentage (.588) and games managed (1,013) and was inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame in 2010. ... Nationals CF Denard Span extended his hitting streak to 23 games with an eighth-inning double. ... Harang's 10-strikeout game was his second double-digit strikeout game of the season but just his fourth in the last six seasons. ... Young has 21 stolen bases since the All-Star break and 37 this season, three behind the Milwaukee Brewers' Jean Segura for the NL lead.
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