Kathy Willens
July 07, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) In a back-and-forth game between the top teams in the NL East, the biggest swing came from Wilmer Flores.

That's been happening a lot lately for the surging New York Mets.

Flores hit a go-ahead, three-run homer and New York rallied past the Washington Nationals 9-7 on Thursday night in the opener of a pivotal four-game series.

''He's on a roll right now. He's unbelievable,'' new teammate Jose Reyes said. ''He makes it look easy.''

Reyes, Travis d'Arnaud and Asdrubal Cabrera also went deep for New York in a slugfest that featured eight home runs - most in the eight-year history of Citi Field. The second-place Mets improved to 7-1 on their 11-game homestand leading into the All-Star break and shaved Washington's division lead to three games - two in the loss column.

Washington's attempt to rally in the ninth inning was thwarted when Jayson Werth was called for an illegal takeout slide at second base, giving the Mets a double play after Cabrera made a diving stop at shortstop of Daniel Murphy's sharp grounder.

The call was upheld following a replay review, and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo got into a shouting match with second base umpire Jim Joyce in the hallway between clubhouses just moments after the final out.

''I know I've been told four or five different things from different crews about the rules and last time I was told it was going to be a common-sense type thing,'' Washington manager Dusty Baker said. ''I don't know how you teach young players now to break up a double play, because there's no such thing as breaking up a double play.''

The victory provided an emotional pick-me-up for the Mets, who announced sobering news before the game: Struggling right-hander Matt Harvey has symptoms consistent with thoracic outlet syndrome and might require season-ending surgery to treat a serious condition that has jeopardized the careers of other major league pitchers.

Murphy homered and drove in three runs, his latest big performance against the Mets since the defending NL champions let him leave as a free agent in the offseason. Bryce Harper, Clint Robinson and Anthony Rendon hit solo shots off 43-year-old Bartolo Colon in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

That put prized prospect Lucas Giolito in good position to earn his first career win, but the 21-year-old right-hander tired quickly and never made it through the fourth inning. He threw 90 pitches over 3 2/3 innings and gave up four runs, seven hits and four walks in his second major league start - both against the Mets.

''We fought back, they fought back. Probably a heck of a game to watch, but a terrible game to lose,'' Baker said.

After the ninth-inning double play, All-Star closer Jeurys Familia struck out Harper for his major league-best 31st save. Familia has converted a club-record 47 consecutive regular-season save opportunities since August, though he did blow a four-run lead this year.

With the Mets trailing 6-4 in the fifth, Cabrera and Brandon Nimmo singled. Flores, who had just come off the bench in a double switch to play first base, drove the first pitch he saw from Oliver Perez (2-2) just over the facing of the second deck in left field.

Scores of fans jumped out of their seats - seemingly in unison - when Flores connected. The fan favorite popped out of the dugout for a curtain call and pumped his left fist to acknowledge a crowd of 37,569 that chanted his name.

On a tear at the plate all week, Flores homered twice Wednesday against Miami and went 6 for 6 with two homers Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

''There's just a good flow to our offense and our team right now,'' Mets second baseman Neil Walker said.

Hansel Robles (3-3) retired Rendon with the bases loaded to end the fifth and worked 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Addison Reed struck out two in 1 1/3 hitless innings as New York's bullpen came through all night.

Washington swept three games from the Mets at home last week to open a six-game lead.

''Still just trying to put ourselves in a situation where we can make a run for it in the second half,'' said New York outfielder Curtis Granderson, who reached base five times and scored twice.

TIME TO GIVE THANKS

Reyes gave d'Arnaud a Rolex watch as a thank you gift for relinquishing uniform No. 7 when the longtime Mets star rejoined the team this week. ''He loved it,'' a smiling Reyes said before joking that he went looking to find a knock-off.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman, who homered Wednesday against Milwaukee, sat out because of general soreness. It was simply a precaution and he is day to day, Baker said. Robinson started at first base.

Mets: Cabrera was back at shortstop after getting scratched just before the first pitch Wednesday because a family illness had kept him up all night.

UP NEXT

Washington RHP Stephen Strasburg (11-0, 2.71 ERA) faces RHP Noah Syndergaard (9-3, 2.41) for the first time Friday night in a marquee matchup of ace pitchers heading to the All-Star Game next week in San Diego. Strasburg was pulled with a no-hitter intact after 6 2/3 innings Sunday against Cincinnati because he had already thrown 109 pitches in his first start since an upper back strain landed him on the DL.

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