NEW YORK (AP) - Henry Rodriguez couldn't find the strike zone. Then he missed his target at first base.
The hard-throwing reliever issued a leadoff walk and committed a crucial throwing error in the ninth inning Monday night, and the undefeated New York Mets took advantage for a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals.
``I'm strong, so sometimes I throw sidearm and the ball moves,' Rodriguez said.
Daniel Murphy singled home the winning run and Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his first major league homer for the Mets, who are 4-0 for the first time since 2007. After a surprising sweep of Atlanta, New York rallied from a three-run deficit in this one and sent several fans home chanting ``Undefeated! Undefeated!' as they filed out of Citi Field.
Adam LaRoche extended his fast start with a pair of RBI singles for the Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman had a run-scoring double. Washington fell to 2-2 in its first full season under Davey Johnson, who managed the Mets to their most recent World Series championship in 1986.
Edwin Jackson squandered an early three-run lead in his Nationals debut and was pulled for a pinch-hitter after five innings. The right-hander signed an $11 million, one-year contract after helping St. Louis win the World Series last season.
Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter drew a leadoff walk from Rodriguez (0-1) in the ninth and Ruben Tejada sacrificed with two strikes. Rodriguez looked at second, then threw low to first and the ball got by Danny Espinosa.
New third base coach Tim Teufel initially waved Baxter all the way around, but he threw up a late stop sign and Baxter slipped to the turf as he tried to slam on the brakes halfway down the line. He got back to his feet and scrambled back to third, barely beating Espinosa's perfect throw across the diamond.
``The only thing I wanted to make sure is, I didn't want to make that long throw, you know, throw behind him and have him get up and go straight (home),' Espinosa said. ``So I wanted to make sure he had kind of a step to commit over there.'
Espinosa was shaken up after catching an elbow in the head from Tejada as he ran through the bag, but the Washington second baseman stayed in the game.
``It's just one of those crazy plays where if you just execute from the beginning, it's a little bit better. But things happen,' Zimmerman said.
With first base open and David Wright on deck, the Nationals went after Murphy, who made a diving play at second base to end the top of the ninth. He looped a single to right over a drawn-in infield that dropped in front of Jayson Werth, who then bobbled the ball and had no play at the plate.
New York was 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position before Murphy came through.
Miguel Batista got out of trouble in the sixth, Ramon Ramirez escaped a seventh-inning jam with a double-play ball and Jon Rauch (1-0) worked two hitless innings for his first win with New York. Mets relievers are 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA in 13 1-3 innings.
Looking for a bounce-back season, New York starter Mike Pelfrey gave up 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings in his first outing of the year. But he struck out eight, matching a career high.
``If I can take that stuff out there every single time, it's going to be a good year,' Pelfrey said.
Nieuwenhuis was called up after newly acquired center fielder Andres Torres re-injured his calf on opening day. The 24-year-old outfielder had two hits in his big league debut Saturday and hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning Monday to tie it at 3.
His drive to right, estimated at 385 feet, cleared the new fence at Citi Field and clanked off the old one, making it the second home run in four games (both hit by the Mets) that would have stayed in the ballpark under the previous configuration.
Trailing 3-0 and booed as he stepped to the plate, the 6-foot-7 Pelfrey sparked New York's offense in the third. He ripped his fifth career double into the left-field corner and scrambled to third on Tejada's long flyout. Wright's two-out single made it 3-1.
NOTES: Nationals closer Drew Storen, on the 15-day disabled list, felt tenderness in his elbow after throwing a simulated game Sunday in Florida and will be examined by Dr. James Andrews. ``Hopefully it's nothing serious, but it doesn't sound good to me,' Johnson said. ... Washington LF-1B Michael Morse (back) isn't expected to come off the DL until the Nationals get home on Thursday. ... LHP Ross Detwiler, who beat the Mets for his first major league win in September 2009, is slated to start Tuesday night. Detwiler will face RHP Dillon Gee, who is 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts against Washington. ... Nationals LHP Tom Gorzelanny tossed 2 2-3 innings of scoreless relief in his season debut.
The Associated Press News Service
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