Maybe a couple days off was all that Ian Desmond needed.

In his first game back from paternity leave and the birth of his first child, the shortstop homered and tripled, scoring two runs, to lead the Washington Nationals over the streaking New York Mets 4-3, before 15,142 at Nationals Park.

The win halts the Nats losing streak at three games and ends the Mets winning streak at six.  The Nationals climb a half-game ahead of New York for fourth place in the N.L. East by virtue of having one less loss at 11-13.

Desmond went 2-for-4 on the evening, with the two extra-base hits.  He tripled to the left center gap and scored on Jerry Hairston's soft fly ball single in the fourth inning, and homered to the visitor's bullpen in the fifth.

"He really played relaxed tonight, had good at bats," manager Jim Riggleman said of his returning shortstop.  "[Desmond] looked relaxed on defense. I'm really proud of him. He's a great competitor and gone through some tough times here in April, but he's had some big games for us too and tonight was a real good ballgame."

"I thought he was very loose tonight," Riggleman said when asked if he thought the time off helped Desmond's game. "A couple days off probably helped him a little bit. Fatherhood exceeds anything we do out here anyway, but I know he's at a special time in his life and I'm just really happy for him -- really glad to see him have a nice, loose ballgame." 

The other offensive hero was also the pitching hero, as Livan Hernandez singled and scored in the third on Jayson Werth's ground rule double that right fielder Carlos Beltran lost in the lights and also drove in Hairston with a sacrifice bunt in the fourth.

Hernandez (W, 3-2, 3.23) was also quite sharp with his arm.  If the news this week that he's the subject of a federal investigation involving money laundering was bothering him, he did not show it on the mound.  He retired the first six batters in order en route to going eight innings with just three runs allowed (two earned) on seven hits and one walk, striking out five.

After Hernandez struggled in his last start, there might have been cause for concern, but Riggleman wouldn't admit to any.  "I don't worry too much about Livo.  Livo's just such a consistant competitor, a good thinker out there."

Drew Storen came in to earn the save in the ninth, punctuating the victory by striking out Mets center fielder Willie Harris on a filthy breaking ball on a 3-2 count.

The win marks just the second time this season the Nationals have won a game scoring fewer than five runs.  "It seems like most of the time we're playing in a real tight ballgame, we don't have too much margin for error really," Riggleman said.
If they are to retain hope of remaining relatively competitive for the next couple of weeks with a daunting 10-day, nine-game road trip looming after a four-game weekend series with the San Francisco Giants, the Nats better find a way to either score a few more runs, or duplicate last night's effort, playing good defensive baseball while getting a solid start and air-tight relief.

It's a tough formula to be successful with, but so far the Nats have kept within hailing distance of .500.  The next two weeks will be a challenge.

THE GOOD: Desmond.  It was nice to see him have such a good game, offensively and defensively, upon his return.  The impending birth of his child had to have been weighing on him in the week leading up to it and he had one of his finer games all season.

THE BAD: Adam LaRoche went 0-for-4 and left three men on base, lowering his season average to .210.

THE UGLY: Pudge's error could have been huge; as it turned out it was just mildly embarrassing.  Mets starter Chris Capuano tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt and Pudge went out to pick it up, but he bobbled it twice trying to find the handle and all hands were safe, loading the bases.  Jose Reyes hit a sac fly to score one run, but Livo got Daniel Murphy on strikes to end the frame.

THE STATS: 10 hits, one walk, three Ks.  3-for-6 with RISP, 7 LOB, one GIDP.  E: Rodriguez (1).

NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:05 pm against the San Francisco Giants.  Jason Marquis (2-0, 3.55) takes on Tim Lincecum (2-2, 2.70).