Starting pitcher Oliver Perez served up a three-run homer in the first inning, giving the Nationals runs in the opening frame for the first time all season. But Perez shut down Washington after that and let the Mets get back in the game.
The problem was the Mets couldn't quite get everything done. They had numerous scoring chances, but could only come through a few times, wasting Perez's strong seven-inning effort as the Nationals hung on for a 4-3 victory before 21,662 on Friday at RFK Stadium.
The Mets entered the game with the top average in the Major Leagues (.295) but left nine on base and couldn't convert opportunities in at least four different innings. They went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, but never pushed across more than one run on a hit.
"We had our chances," said third baseman David Wright. "We just couldn't cash in."
Not cashing in proved costly for Perez (2-2). He gave up a two-out, three-run homer to Kearns in the first inning that gave Washington (8-15) a quick 3-0 lead. But he regained command after that.
The left-hander gave up just one run on five hits in the final six innings. Perez struck out nine, didn't walk any batters and stayed in command throughout.
"He settled down nicely," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "He did a great job of regrouping; probably the biggest thing was no walks. He showed me something by not bending and coming back strong."
Randolph was faced with a tough choice involving Perez in the fifth. The Mets had cut the Washington lead to 3-2, and Perez was due up with runners on first and third with two outs. Randolph thought pinch-hitting for Perez then wasn't right, feeling the Mets' offense could come back.
Perez came up and lined out to Ryan Church in center, ending the inning and the threat.
"We've got to do a better job of taking care of our business," Randolph said.
Perez said he tried to shake off the first-inning homer and concentrate on giving the Mets a chance to come back.
"I just have to keep going, keep the team in the game," Perez said. "You just have to keep going. You have to take it and come [back] tomorrow."
Randolph also said he was a little frustrated with the team's baserunning. He didn't want to point fingers, saying basically the team could have done better "overall."
The Mets had plenty of baserunning chances in this game. They put runners on base in each of the first six innings, but stranded those nine. The Mets loaded the bases in the fourth and sixth but could just score once. They also had the tying run on second with none out in the eighth, but couldn't get the big hit.
The Nationals took the 3-0 lead when Kearns blasted a three-run homer to center. But the Mets began chipping away, getting a run in the second on a Paul Lo Duca sacrifice fly and another in the third on Jose Valentin's RBI groundout.
"We don't panic when we fall behind early," said center fielder Carlos Beltran. "We almost came back."
Washington added an insurance run in the sixth on Church's two-out RBI single. The Mets cut the lead to 4-3 in the eighth on back-to-back doubles from Wright and Moises Alou to start the inning. Alou was on second with none out, but Nationals reliever Jon Rauch then got Shawn Green, Valentin and pinch-hitter Julio Franco to fly out, leaving Alou stranded at second base.
Closer Chad Cordero came on to retire the Mets in order in the ninth, saving the win for Nationals starter Matt Chico (2-2). The inning did have an interesting moment, when Beltran and home-plate umpire Larry Vanover got into an animated discussion during the at-bat. It appeared that Beltran was arguing that he was not ready for the pitch that resulted in strike two. Randolph had to come out to step between the two, but everything eventually settled down. Beltran then popped to second to end the game.
This was just the second time this season that the Mets (13-8) have lost consecutive games -- the club dropped two in a row to Atlanta on April 7 and 8. But there wasn't a lot of anger in the clubhouse, more the feeling that this was a game that just kind of slipped away.
"It was a frustrating loss," Green said. "We had some chances. We just couldn't break it open."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.