At the plate, Stephen Strasburg did better than Matt Harvey. On the mound, not quite.
Harvey outpitched Strasburg in a marquee matchup of young aces, escaping a late bases-loaded jam while the crowd chanted his name and leading the New York Mets over the Washington Nationals 7-1 Friday night.
Strasburg got his first hit of the season, a double in the third inning that also was Washington’s first hit of the game. But he was gone after the sixth, once again leaving on the losing end.
”Not good enough,” Strasburg said. ”It’s tough. You want to go out there and feel good every time. It was a struggle again. It’s still early. Just got to keep battling and keep working hard. I know it’s going to come.”
Ike Davis and Lucas Duda each hit two home runs, providing an ample cushion for Harvey and the Mets to end their three-game skid.
Harvey and Strasburg paired off for the first time in their careers, with many projecting the celebrated 24-year-olds will duel far into the future. Harvey (4-0) was equal to the challenge and started out fast, striking out leadoff man Denard Span with 98 mph heat.
Davis and Duda hit solo home runs in the sixth — the first time Strasburg (1-3) ever had been tagged twice in an inning — for a 4-0 lead. The 26,675 fans at Citi Field celebrated, breaking into cheers of ”Harvey’s better!” that bounced around the ballpark.
Strasburg allowed four runs, two unearned, and five hits in six innings. He fanned six, flinging fastballs in the upper 90s. His 2.96 ERA certainly looks better than his won-lost record.
”I think the biggest thing is that I’m not having a good enough feel early on … and get through some quick innings to get deep into the ballgame. That seems to be the case the last few starts going out there. Just not throwing enough strikes early and it’s kind of shooting myself in the foot,” he said.
Strasburg said he can’t pinpoint the problem.
”I really can’t say. It’s such a feel thing for me when I go out there and it feels right and you just repeat it,” he said. ”And right now, it’s just breaking down on some pitches, as far as mechanics. I just need to keep working hard and I know that it’s going to get better.”
Harvey gave up one run and four hits in seven innings, striking out seven. He’s been so dominant, his ERA actually went up, from 0.82 to 0.93.
Davis added a two-run homer in the eighth and Duda hit a solo drive off Drew Storen.
Harvey ran into his only jam in the seventh. A leadoff walk and singles by Ian Desmond and Chad Tracy made it 4-1, and a throwing error by second baseman Daniel Murphy loaded the bases with no outs.
Harvey showed composure far beyond his years, quickly getting ahead of Kurt Suzuki and then making him chase a slider for strike three. Pinch-hitter Roger Bernadina was next, and Harvey got him on a foul popout.
With the crowd chanting his name, Harvey ended the inning by retiring Span on a routine grounder. Harvey watched the play, pumped his fist and got a fist bump from catcher John Buck outside the dugout.
”We had the right guys, we had pitches, we just didn’t get the hit,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
”And Stras, he held us in there. He was just missing all night, pitching behind hitters all night, threw a lot of pitches. But we had our chances,” he said.
Moments later, the crowd cheered again when the video board posted a message that the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was in custody. That news prompted some fans to chant ”U-S-A!”
Harvey and Strasburg each stand 6-foot-4, and their stature as young flamethrowers loomed large as many around the majors touted this matchup.
With fog swirling around the top of the scoreboard at the start, the Mets took a 2-0 lead in the first. An error by shortstop Desmond set up Strasburg’s wild pitch that scored a run, and Buck added a single for his 20th RBI this season.
NOTES: Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman didn’t start because of tightness in his left hamstring. SS Danny Espinosa didn’t start because of a bruised right forearm that has sidelined him since Sunday. Span returned to the lineup after missing two games because of an ill stomach.