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Eric Campbell goes from hard luck to hard hit in critical spot

WASHINGTON -- What does Eric Campbell have in common with Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen?

Apparently the ability to put the ball in play with authority.

Pinch hitting for Jacob deGrom in the seventh inning, Campbell came through with a two-run single against Aaron Barrett that gave the New York Mets a one-run lead. After tacking on four more runs in the ninth, the Mets had defeated the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Tuesday night to move back within two games of first place in the NL East.

Manager Terry Collins would have permitted deGrom to bat if Kevin Plawecki had tied the score in the previous at-bat. But with the Mets trailing by a run and mightily struggling in the offensive department, Collins decided it was a no-brainer to have Campbell pinch hit for the All-Star pitcher with two runners in scoring position and one out.

Yes, deGrom had a higher batting average at the time (.195 versus .174). Still, Collins lightheartedly noted, alluding to deGrom’s college days as a position player: “No disrespect to Jake deGrom. He does handle a bat. He’s not a position player. There’s a reason why they took him off shortstop and made him a pitcher.”

A loss would have dropped the Mets four games behind the Nats.

“This is a huge win, a good team win,” said deGrom, who limited the Nats to two runs on three hits in six innings.

The scoring-challenged Mets had plated only 2, 2, 3 and 2 runs in their opening four games of the second half. And the high-scoring game of that group came in 18 innings on Sunday in St. Louis, when the Mets avoided a sweep against the NL Central-leading Cardinals.

Collins noted there were other reasons for Campbell’s selection. Although his average did not reflect it, Campbell had been hitting into hard outs of late. In fact, Campbell’s 23.3 percent hard-hit rate on balls in play ranked third in the majors this season entering Tuesday (minimum 100 at-bats). It trailed only Stanton (24.5 percent), Harper (23.6) and McCutchen (23.4), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“We’ve got stats that Eric Campbell has as many ‘well hits’ in the last month as anybody on this team and nothing to show for it,” Collins said.

Said Campbell: “I was just looking to make hard-hit contact through the middle. With the infield in, your chances of finding a hole are greater. So, I was just trying to make contact and hope for the best.”

Collins preferred Campbell to ailing Michael Cuddyer as the pinch hitter because the manager was unsure what Cuddyer could provide on his balky left knee. Cuddyer ultimately pinch hit and walked in the ninth inning. He subsequently looked gimpy on the bases and remains a DL candidate.

“To be honest, I don’t know how bad Mike’s knee bothers him when he swings,” Collins said. “With the way it’s been acting, I just said I thought this was the spot for Campbell.”

DeGrom had been at only 82 pitches through six innings.

Collins noted that with Jenrry Mejia and Bobby Parnell performing capably of late leading into closer Jeurys Familia, the decision to pinch hit for deGrom became even more logical.

“I’ll tell you what I thought about,” Collins said. “Seriously, you know what went through my mind? This is a baseball game. It’s not about one guy. It’s not about Jake deGrom giving us two more innings. In a game you’re behind by a run and you have runners at second and third and the pitcher’s up, you’ve got to pinch hit. You’ve got to trust your bullpen. You’ve got to trust your guy off the bench. But that’s how you play the game.”

The Mets finished the game 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position. They had been 4-for-72 the previous nine games.

“It’s a big hit,” Campbell said regarding his two-run single. “We obviously needed to score more runs and hit better with guys in scoring position.”