One waved a towel, two jumped up and down, and bullpen coach Ricky Bones held his hands up. Their premier trade-deadline acquisition had just given them an unlikely lead, one they protected to possibly end the NL East race.
Cespedes' two-run homer in the eighth powered the Mets to a 5-3 win over Washington on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. New York (78-61) trailed 2-1, entering the eighth before rallying against Stephen Strasburg and the bullpen.
The Mets lead the NL East by seven games with 23 left.
For the third straight game, the Mets exposed that vulnerable bullpen, and for the second straight night, Cespedes slammed Drew Storen.
New York trailed 2-1 in the eighth when pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson hit a game-tying homer to right off Strasburg. Curtis Granderson singled two batters later and Matt Williams strode to the mound to a chorus of boos from Nationals fans to pull Strasburg.
Drew Storen, who blew the save Tuesday and allowed a bases-clearing double to Cespedes, entered to face Cespedes, and the slugger won the battle again. Cespedes hit a towering two-run shot into the Mets' bullpen for a 4-2 lead.
The homer put Strasburg on the hook for the loss despite his brilliant performance. Before the eighth, he had allowed just a solo homer to Travis d'Arnaud, and the Mets mounted little resistance as his curveball induced plenty of swings and misses.
New York struck out 13 times against Strasburg and 12 of those came from the third to seventh innings. The Mets struck out multiple times in each of those five innings, and Strasburg struck out the side in the third and seventh.
The eighth-inning rally made a winner of Jacob deGrom, who allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings. He struck out nine and walked two.
Mets pitchers had held Harper, the projected favorite to be the NL MVP, to an 0-for-8 performance in the first two games of the series, but he has deGrom's number. Harper went 2-for-3 with a homer against deGrom and is now 7-for-16 (.438) against him.
DeGrom tried to blow a 97-mph fastball by Harper in the first, but the All-Star pulled the pitch into the Nationals' bullpen in right for a 1-0 lead.
In a tie game in the fourth, Harper again bested deGrom by lacing a leadoff double to right, and he scored to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead when Clint Robinson hit a single through the hole on the left side created by a shift.
Harper also hit a homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth that sliced the lead to 4-3.
"If we can do it, I think it would be a preference, yes," Alderson said. "Just a general giving him a break probably would be a good idea as it would be for most."
Alderson said deGrom has not shown any signs of fatigue, but he's closing in on his career high in innings. DeGrom threw 1782/3 last season in the majors (1401/3) and minors, and has now thrown 176 this season.
Collins said deGrom's pitches have been up in the zone recently.
"I think he's getting tired, watching the ball up in the strike zone, even though his velocity is good," Collins said. "Last year, he had a two-week hiatus because of the shoulder injury. Now he hasn't, so he's staring over 200 innings in the face. Not that he can't do it, just that he hasn't had the break he did last year. . Those extra days sometimes help out."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson also said that the NL East leaders haven't determined how they might use Harvey beyond that in the postseason, if they get that far.
Harvey has thrown 171 2/3 innings this year, his first season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. Harvey and the Mets want to keep his innings count around 180 to 185 for the regular season.