By BEN WALKER, AP Baseball Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey kept Washington swinging at shadows on a sunny afternoon, Lucas Duda homered again and the New York Mets averted a sweep, beating the Nationals 3-1 Thursday.
Dickey (9-1) tossed four-hit ball for scoreless 7 1-3 innings and extended the longest shutout streak of his career to 24 2-3 innings — a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats.
Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season. He also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support.
Duda backed Dickey with his fifth homer in eight games, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2).
Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single.
The way Dickey has been pitching lately, three runs were more than enough. He limited the Nationals to only singles, struck out eight and walked two. Most of the outs were soft ones and when Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment.
Washington never got a runner past second base when Dickey was on the mound. He left after Jhonatan Solano’s one-out single in the eighth and reliever Bobby Parnell walked Rick Ankiel. After the runners moved up on a grounder, Bryce Harper grounded out to end the threat.
Frank Francisco gave up Ryan Zimmerman’s leadoff home run in the ninth before closing for his 15th save in 18 chances.
The win stopped the Mets’ three-game losing streak heading into the Subway Series that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Mets had lost the first two at Nationals Park in the series.
Wang allowed eight hits in 5 1-3 innings in his second start of the season. The Mets won for just the second time in 10 meetings with Washington since last September.
There wasn’t a whole lot for Nationals fans to cheer about on a bright afternoon until Zimmerman’s third homer. Midway through the game, however, there was a ripple of applause throughout the crowd of 32,096 when clouds briefly blocked the glare.
NOTES: Dickey’s previous best scoreless streak was 18 innings in 2010. … Mets LF Jason Bay was a late scratch because of flulike symptoms. He has been out since April 23 because of a broken rib, and was activated from the disabled list this week. … Mets LHP Johan Santana will start Friday night at Yankee Stadium in his first outing since throwing a no-hitter. Manager Terry Collins said Santana, who threw a career-high 134 pitches in that gem last Friday, won’t be on a pitch count. … Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg is set to start Friday night at Fenway Park. Manager Davey Johnson said he doesn’t expect to use an infield shift against Boston lefty slugger David Ortiz, not with the heat Strasburg brings. … Mets RHP Jon Rauch will be examined Friday. The reliever has a tender elbow and has lost five straight decisions. … Mets SS Omar Quintanilla started despite an injured left index finger.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)