NEW YORK -- A rookie starting pitcher has won each of the first two games of the three-game series between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. Both teams hope that remains the case in Sunday's series finale.
A pair of first-year hurlers will take the mound Sunday night, when the Mets are scheduled to host the Nationals at Citi Field. New York earned a 3-1 win Saturday night, when rookie Robert Gsellman collected his second career victory after allowing one run over six solid innings.
With the win, the Mets (70-66) moved within one game of the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the National League's second wild-card spot. New York has gained 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals in the last 15 days.
"I thought tonight was a big game for us to have to win," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Obviously, we weren't supposed to win it because we had a rookie pitching.
"But that's why it's a great game. You just never know."
Of course, the Nationals could have said the same thing Friday night, when rookie A.J. Cole also gave up one run over six innings in a 4-1 victory. It was the first major league win for Cole.
Two rookies will start Sunday, when Mets right-hander Seth Lugo opposes Nationals right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who will be promoted from Triple-A Syracuse prior to the game.
Washington was originally scheduled to start ace right-hander Max Scherzer, but he was pushed back to Monday in order to get him an extra day of rest as the Nationals (79-56), who lead the Mets by 9 1/2 games in the NL East, prepare for the playoffs.
Scherzer is second in the National League in both starts (28) and innings pitched (190). He threw eight innings in each of his last two starts and three times in six starts in August overall.
"If I can give a guy an extra day, then we'll give him an extra day," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You would love for Max to pitch against the Mets. But (they) felt the extra day was more important than Max pitching here."
Lopez will be making his sixth career start while Lugo will be making his fourth big league start.
Lopez hasn't pitched for the Nationals since Aug. 23, when he gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks while striking out two over a career-low 2 2/3 innings in an 8-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. He is 2-2 with a 5.33 ERA for Washington this season.
Lugo, who moved into the rotation when another rookie, left-hander Steven Matz, suffered a shoulder injury, earned his second straight win on Tuesday, when he allowed two runs on five hits and one walk while striking out four over six innings as the Mets beat the Miami Marlins, 7-4. He is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA in three starts since joining the rotation and 2-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 12 appearances overall.