- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - With a chance to gain ground in the NL East race, Drew Storen and the rest of Washington’s relievers had a series to forget.

Storen yielded Yoenis Cespedes’ go-ahead homer in the eighth inning moments after pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson connected for a tying shot off Stephen Strasburg, and the New York Mets rallied past the Nationals 5-3 Wednesday night for a pivotal three-game sweep.

Johnson’s leadoff drive tied it 2-all before Cespedes teed off for his two-run shot against a struggling Storen, sending the Mets to their third consecutive comeback victory in the series.

“Our bullpen is one of our strengths generally, and it hasn’t been (recently),” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “It’s tough. I feel for those guys getting out there and giving up runs because they’re not intending to, that’s for sure.”

The sweep extended New York’s division lead to seven games over Washington with 23 to play. The Mets have won six straight against the Nationals, including a three-game sweep at Citi Field from July 31 to Aug. 2.

Washington’s bullpen allowed 12 runs in the latest series.

“Tonight, Drew’s in there for the righty - didn’t happen,” Williams said. “Stephen pitched really well, got us into the eighth. It’s good for him. I’m happy to see him healthy. Can we all do a better job? Sure.”

Jacob deGrom tossed seven strong innings in a tight duel with Strasburg, who struck out a season-high 13 in his first start since Aug. 30. He was pulled after Curtis Granderson’s single in the eighth.

One night after yielding a three-run double to Cespedes and walking three straight batters to force in the tying run, Storen came on to face the New York slugger with Granderson on first.

Cespedes sent Storen’s second pitch into the Mets’ bullpen for his 14th homer since joining the team in a July 31 trade with Detroit.

“I was just (trying to) throw a quality breaking ball and left it up in the zone,” Storen said. “Can’t do that when you’re facing a hitter like that.”

New York also rallied Monday and beat the Nationals’ bullpen after starter Max Scherzer left with the score tied at 5.

Bryce Harper homered twice, giving him 36 this season. He also doubled and scored three times, but it wasn’t enough for Washington.

Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom (13-7) gave up two runs and five hits. He struck out nine and walked two.

Strasburg (8-7), who left his last start after four innings with upper back tightness, was charged with three runs and five hits in 7 1-3 innings.

“I went out there and battled,” Strasburg said. “That’s a tough one. I just made a bad pitch to Johnson. What are the chances? Fresh off the bench, and he takes me upper deck.”

Harper’s second homer of the game made it 4-3 in the eighth. Michael Conforto answered for New York with an RBI single off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth.

Jeurys Familia closed for his 39th save.

“We’re obviously not where we want to be,” Strasburg said. “We’ve just got to keep fighting. That’s all we can do.”

HARPER’S HOMERS

Harper had his ninth career multihomer game and fourth this season. He’s hit safely in 16 of 21 games, going 27 for 69 (.319) with nine doubles, six home runs, 12 RBIs and 21 runs.

TRAINER’S ROOM

The Nationals are dealing with several ailments, as 3B Yunel Escobar (103-degree fever), CF Michael Taylor (swollen right knee) and 1B Ryan Zimmerman (left oblique soreness and tightness) were all out of the starting lineup. It was not known when they will return.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.96) has fared well against the Marlins, going 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA in his career.

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