NEW YORK — As the clock ticked past 11 p.m. and "Moondance" by Van Morrison practically wafted through the ballpark, young children ran around the bases as part of a family-friendly promotion normally reserved for Sunday afternoons.
For the first time in years, the New York Mets are a late show worth watching.
Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and streaking Lucas Duda homered in a span of five pitches, a sudden power strike that charged up Citi Field and sent the Mets past the Washington Nationals 5-2 Sunday night for a three-game sweep.
"I've never been in a playoff atmosphere, but tonight sure felt like one," Duda said.
Noah Syndergaard (6-5) struck out nine over eight innings, and New York pulled within percentage points of the first-place Nationals in the NL East. Boosted by a trio of lively crowds, the Mets completed their first three-game sweep of Washington since May 2009 and boldly pronounced themselves legitimate contenders.
"It's so much fun to be a Met right now," Syndergaard said. "Just an unbelievable night, and I'm looking forward to the days to come."
It was indeed a serious statement from the rising Mets, now 7-6 against the Nationals this season after going 4-15 last year. New York finished a wildly eventful 6-4 homestand that featured one undone trade, four new additions (including slugger Yoenis Cespedes) and a 162-game drug suspension for reliever Jenrry Mejia.
Coming into the series, the Nationals had won 18 of their last 21 at Citi Field. The teams meet six more times this year, Sept. 7-9 at Washington and Oct. 2-4 in New York during the final series of the regular season.
Anthony Rendon hit his first homer this season on Syndergaard's fifth pitch, and Yunel Escobar also went deep for Washington.
"Last year the atmosphere (here) was a little different," Rendon said.
Mets nemesis Jordan Zimmermann (8-7) issued a leadoff walk in the third. Two outs later, Granderson launched a 2-2 curve into the front row of the second deck in right field for his 17th home run.
Murphy hit the next pitch almost halfway up those bleachers, a little to the right of Granderson's drive. Cespedes then singled for his first hit with the Mets, and by the time Duda plunked the facing of the second deck with his 21st homer of the season, the chanting crowd of 35,374 was in a full-out frenzy.
"I'm not really sure how it's physically possible to hit that ball where I put it," Zimmermann said. "It was up and in for a ball up, and somehow he kept it fair."
It was Duda's ninth home run in his last eight games. He homered twice Saturday night and hit a tiebreaking double in the eighth inning of a 3-2 win.
It also marked the first time the Mets, the lowest-scoring team in the majors this season, hit three long balls in one inning since June 7, 2007, when Carlos Delgado, David Wright and Paul Lo Duca connected in succession off Philadelphia lefty Cole Hamels.
And after seeing his old team raise the home run apple in center field three times in just a couple of minutes, former Mets slugger Mike Piazza tweeted: "Awesome to watch (hashtag)CitiField Rock!"
"I think we definitely could feed off the energy," Murphy said. "From my experience in this stadium, that was unique."
Syndergaard, who carried a perfect game through six innings during his previous start against the Padres, walked none and scattered seven hits. The 22-year-old rookie fanned slugger Bryce Harper with his 109th and final pitch, a 99 mph fastball.
Tyler Clippard, who spent seven years with the Nationals, got three outs for his first save with the Mets. He had 17 for Oakland this season before coming over in a trade last Monday.
"It's out there about our pitching. Everybody's talking about it," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
AROUND THE HORN
The Mets said Duda joined Jason Bay (2006) and Josh Hamilton (2012) as the only players in the past 10 years to hit nine home runs in an eight-game stretch, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. ... Cespedes played center field for the first time since July 28, 2014, for Oakland. He made three starts in center with the A's last year. ... The Mets are 38-18 at home. They play 32 of their final 57 games on the road, where they are 17-32. ... Syndergaard is 6-1 in eight starts at Citi Field. He became the first Mets pitcher to go at least eight innings in four straight home starts since Mark Clark in 1996.
Nationals: The team hopes RHP Stephen Strasburg (left oblique strain) can return to the rotation after one more rehab outing Monday for Triple-A Syracuse. Strasburg is expected to throw 80-85 pitches.
Mets: LF Michael Cuddyer (left knee inflammation) headed to Florida to begin baseball activities at the team's complex in Port St. Lucie. ... OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with discomfort in his neck and left shoulder. Prized outfield prospect Michael Conforto was recalled after a one-day assignment to Triple-A Las Vegas — he never even left New York.
Nationals: Following a 3-7 road trip, the Nationals begin a four-game home series Monday night with RHP Doug Fister (4-6) on the mound against Arizona rookie Zack Godley (2-0).
Mets: In the opener of a three-game series at Miami, 42-year-old Bartolo Colon (9-10) pitches Monday night against Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (8-7). Colon has lost six consecutive decisions, equaling the worst streak of his long career, and New York has dropped his last seven starts. He allowed 10 hits in a season-low 2 1/3 innings Wednesday during a 7-3 loss to San Diego.