WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Washington Nationals have the worst record in baseball, but the New York Mets played them with the kind of intensity reserved for the best clubs.
Brian Schneider homered against his former team and Carlos Delgado also went deep to help the Mets beat the Nationals 9-3 on Thursday night, finishing a three-game sweep and taking over first place in the NL East."At this time of the year, every win is huge -- no matter who you play," New York manager Jerry Manuel said. "Washington is looking to knock you off. They're looking to make a mark for themselves."The Mets wouldn't let them do it. They got consistent starting pitching, timely hitting and some consistent bullpen work throughout the series for their second road sweep this season.Starter Oliver Perez (9-7) handed a 5-3 lead over to the Mets' beleaguered bullpen in the seventh, and Joe Smith, Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman combined to throw 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Perez struck out eight and allowed six hits and three walks.The Mets limited the Nationals to six runs in the three-game series and Washington never led."That's been our weakness this year," New York's Carlos Beltran said. "We've not been able to take advantage of teams under .500. Coming in here, we know that every time we come here, the Washington Nationals always find a way to play good baseball against us. This time, we really approached them the same way we approached the Phillies and the teams in contention."The win gave the Mets a one-game lead in the division over Philadelphia, which lost 3-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night.Washington starter Collin Balester (3-5) held the Mets hitless in the first three innings, but New York scored five runs in the next three."This is the big leagues and guys make adjustments," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "That second time through the lineup, it looked like they made adjustments."Washington has lost seven straight.Schneider, the former Nationals catcher, hit a two-run drive off Balester in the fifth to give the Mets a 4-0 lead. It was his first homer since May 14, also against Washington."Every game is important from here on out," Schneider said. "We need to take care of things for ourselves -- what we can control. We need to take care of business every day."Delgado connected for his 26th homer in the sixth and drove in a run with a groundout in the fourth.Washington chased Perez during a three-run seventh. Pinch-hitter Pete Orr hit a two-run triple and scored on Emilio Bonifacio's bunt single. Bonifacio had been mired in a 1-for-27 slump.Smith entered after Bonifacio's hit and retired Ronnie Belliard on a flyball to right to end the inning. Smith and Sanchez combined to work the eighth before Heilman got the final three outs."We had momentum for a little bit," Orr said. "But they did a good job of shutting us down the next three innings."Damion Easley gave the Mets some insurance in the ninth with a pinch-hit, two-run single. New York added two more on second baseman Bonifacio's throwing error.Lastings Milledge went 0-for-3 with a walk for Washington, ending his career-best 14-game hitting streak.Notes: SS Cristian Guzman (thumb) and C Jesus Flores (stomach virus) were scratched from Washington's lineup. ... The Nationals activated INF Aaron Boone from the disabled list and placed SS Alberto Gonzalez on the DL. ... Mets LHP Billy Wagner, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left forearm, pitched a perfect inning for Double-A Binghamton. ... Mets 3B David Wright made an unusual out to end the fifth when a fan reached out and blocked RF Austin Kearns from catching a ball in foul territory. The umpires called Wright out on fan interference.