- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The margins were about as close as they could have been. Washington Nationals center fielder Michael A. Taylor stood at the plate with two outs in the eighth inning, waiting for his pitch. New York Mets relief pitcher Bobby Parnell had just pushed the count full with a misplaced curveball, his first offspeed pitch of the at-bat. Parnell went back to his fastball to try to ring Taylor up, but the 24-year-old sent his 96 mph offering through the left side gap for a single that drove in Ian Desmond and Matt den Dekker and tied the score at three.

“Just try to step out of the box and take my time a little more than I probably would normally,” Taylor said. “And then I’m looking for a certain pitch in a situation like that and I have to try to be as patient as possible.”

Without Taylor’s heroics, the distance between the Nationals and the Mets might have been as sliver-thin as the distance between the left-field line and the ball hit down it by Danny Espinosa that sent Taylor home to score the go-ahead run. With a win, the Mets would have trailed the National League East-leading Nationals by just one game, but instead head back to New York three games behind in the standings.

The Mets retooled their starting rotation coming out of the all-star break in order to throw top-three starters Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard at their divisional rivals, while the Nationals did no reshuffling. Max Scherzer did not take the mound against the Mets, nor is he in line to when the Nationals head to New York for a series from July 31 through Aug. 2.

“It was big,” starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said. “They had their big three going against us and for us to win two out of three it was definitely big and we’re going to see them in a couple series up at their place and take two more.”

Without altering their rotation, the Nationals still made out 3-3 against Mike Bolsinger, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard. The Mets will now get the likes of Kershaw and Greinke at home while the Nationals head on the road to Pittsburgh for a three game series, beginning a road trip that won’t end until they return from New York.

They may have to survive the trip without one of the mainstays in the Nationals’ ever-more depleted lineup. Third baseman Yunel Escobar left the game with an apparent left wrist injury in the second inning when an attempt to check his swing on a 96 mph sinker from Syndergaard left him sprawling in the dirt.

Manager Matt Williams said the initial x-ray on Escobar’s wrist came back negative, but that he will undergo an MRI and further testing. Escobar is batting .321 after Wednesday’s game.

Dan Uggla entered the game at second base and Espinosa moved over to third following Escobar’s exit, and other players bats came through. Taylor, leading off, was the effective cleanup man for the day, driving in three of the Nationals four runs during a productive day for the bottom end of the batting order.

Desmond and den Dekker were both on base for the fourth time in as many at-bats for Taylor’s single in the eighth inning. Both had gotten into scoring position on a wild pitch by Parnell.

“Opportunity,” Williams said. That’s what they’re looking for, the opportunity to show us and everybody else what they can do, and they’ve stepped up. It wasn’t the plan, for sure, but nonetheless they’ve contributed and we’re at where we’re at.”

Desmond and Taylor also combined for the sole run the Nationals could scratch against Syndergaard. It came in the fourth inning after Desmond singled and then stole second base before Taylor drove him in with a single. Taylor is batting .234 overall this season, but .389 with runners in scoring position.

Desmond, who has struggled on both sides of the ball all season and is batting .213 with 105 strikeouts to 19 walks in 90 games, finished the three-game series against the Mets with a line of 5-for-9 with one home run, two RBI, two walks, one stolen base and two runs.

“If he sees it well then he lays off the bad pitches and he’s able to do stuff like that, hit balls over the fence and get base hits and walk and cause havoc on the bases as well,” Williams said. “So, I like where he’s at right now, he’s seeing the ball well.”

A resurgence for Desmond could help the Nationals survive until the likes of Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman return to the team from injury, possibly by the end of this month. His production would be especially important if Escobar has to miss significant time.

Surviving seems like what this Nationals team has been doing all year, but the team seems comfortable with the next-man-up approach. For now, they’ve survived their way to a series win and a bit of breathing room in the standings.

“I think we trust everybody that’s on this team,” Espinosa said. “I don’t think there was any panic there. Anyone on this team can get the job done so I think we were alright and we were just kind of going to the next guy and keep on grinding.”

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