NEW YORK — Limited to two runs over the previous three games, the Washington Nationals used their eyes even more than their bats to break out at the plate.
Daniel Murphy drove in two runs against his former team to back Gio Gonzalez in his latest win at Citi Field, sending the patient Nationals past the New York Mets 7-1 on May 18.
Anthony Rendon snapped a fifth-inning tie with a two-run single for the Nationals, who stopped a three-game skid and held onto first place in the NL East.
They took advantage of uncharacteristic wildness by Bartolo Colon and the Mets, drawing 11 walks and getting hit by pitches twice in a game that dragged on for 3 hours, 42 minutes.
“It was nice as an offense for us to put up a crooked number tonight and reward Gio for how well he’s been throwing the ball. I don’t think we’ve given him a ton of run support,” said Murphy, a postseason star for the Mets last year.
“I thought we grinded out some at-bats tonight. We were able to get to the bullpen early and really create some traffic on the basepaths.”
Gonzalez (3-1) carried a two-hitter into the seventh before three singles loaded the bases with one out.
Felipe Rivero relieved and escaped the jam unscathed, retiring Kevin Plawecki and pinch-hitter Michael Conforto to protect a four-run lead.
Yoenis Cespedes hit his 13th home run for the Mets, who have lost five of six.
The rubber game of the series, the first this season between the division rivals, is the night of May 19 — with unbeaten Washington ace Stephen Strasburg pitching against struggling Matt Harvey.
Gonzalez improved to 10-4 with a 2.59 ERA against the Mets, and 7-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 12 starts at Citi Field. He is 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in his last six starts against New York.
“I really don’t have an answer for what’s going on here,” he said.
Jayson Werth doubled, singled and scored three runs on a perfect night at the plate. He also walked three times and stole his first base of the season.
Behind him, Bryce Harper drew four walks and scored once. It was quite a contrast to Tuesday night, when Noah Syndergaard went right after Harper (0-for-4) and held the NL MVP without a walk for the first time in 11 games.
The Mets, who threw 217 pitches, entered with the fewest walks in the majors. They had not issued 11 free passes in a nine-inning game since July 13, 2012, against Atlanta.
“I haven’t seen that out of our pitching staff since I’ve been here. Nobody could find the strike zone,” Manager Terry Collins said. “That’s just not us.”
Pitching six days before his 43rd birthday, Colon (3-3) walked five for the first time since April 26, 2005, with the Angels at Yankee Stadium.
He walked consecutive batters twice (Werth and Harper in the first and again in the third). Colon had not walked back-to-back hitters even once since July 18, 2007, with the Angels at Tampa Bay.
Collins called it “shocking” and said he was “baffled.”
“I guess maybe that opened our eyes,” Rendon said.
The shaky outing came hours after the New York Post reported Colon is being sued by a woman who alleges the pitcher hasn’t paid child support for two children he fathered with her outside his marriage.
Colon insisted the story was not a distraction.
“When I’m here doing my job, nothing else affects me,” he said through a translator. “I have nothing to add to that. I don’t care to talk about my personal stuff.”
(MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer)