The Mets on Thursday seemed fine for four innings, then fell apart for the remaining five, ultimately losing to the Nationals, 10-5. Their starting pitching wavered and their bullpen struggled. Their fielding was shaky and their hitting was inconsistent. Each time manager Willie Randolph flicked a switch, he wished he had pulled a different lever instead. There was simply nothing the Mets could have done to make it work out OK.
"We've just got to concentrate on those games that are close until the end," Wright said. "Today was just one of those games where there wasn't much that went right."
The loudest mistake came in the sixth inning, back when the Mets were still tied with the Nationals -- baseball's least successful team this April. Given starter Oliver Perez's struggles, Randolph decided to go to his bullpen, calling on Aaron Heilman. Wrong call. After enduring a lengthy at-bat with Lastings Milledge -- including a ball that Milledge drilled just foul down the left-field line -- Heilman ultimately walked him, loading the bases for typically light-hitting leadoff man Felipe Lopez.
Lopez sweated out a full count before drilling a Heilman pitch over the electronic scoreboard in right for a tie-breaking grand slam. The Mets never recovered.
"I've just got to figure out a way to make better pitches," Heilman said.
He was not the only culprit. Carlos Delgado finished 0-for-4 and misplayed an infield grounder that led to another run in the seventh. Jose Reyes singled in his final plate appearance, but only after extending his hitless streak to 16 at-bats and committing an error of his own in the seventh. Perez walked two leadoff batters, one of whom came around to score. That sparked the beginning of the end of the day for the Mets' starter, who walked four in total and allowed five runs in his 5 2/3 innings.
Perez especially struggled in the fifth inning, allowing three runs and finishing the frame with 88 pitches. Still, Randolph, citing a belief that Perez had enough strength left to remain in the game, elected to let his pitcher hit after that inning. Perez rewarded him by allowing the first three batters he faced in the sixth to reach base. His day was quickly over.
"We've just got to concentrate on those games that are close until the end. Today was just one of those games where there wasn't much that went right."
-- David Wright
"I want to go deeper into games," Perez said, "but sometimes you can't."
So execution was the culprit again, as it has been for so many Mets at so many times this season. No, they're not in dire straits -- the Mets still own a winning record -- but they remain well below where they expected, or at least hoped, to be.
The few bright spots -- Luis Castillo racked up three hits and Carlos Beltran homered -- were overshadowed by the jumble of what went wrong. Some of it might not surprise them, while other parts certainly should. Take Jorge Sosa, for example, who was so successful last year, but allowed three more runs on Thursday to bloat his ERA up to 7.36. Or take Heilman, generally among the team's most consistent pitchers. He now holds a 6.23 ERA, having allowed six runs -- two earned -- over his last two outings.
"Certainly this is a little atypical," Heilman said, "but it's not something that I haven't gone through in the past. Maybe not to this degree, but I've just got to keep going out there and battling and being aggressive, and be confident that things are going to turn around."
That mantra -- wait till tomorrow -- is a popular one. The Mets used it last year until they ran out of tomorrows, and they'll continue to use it this year, as well. It's a justified thought, given their talent, that tomorrow might bring better things. They can't believe that they're a mediocre team, or one incapable of making the playoffs. The individual pieces are there -- they really do seem to be there -- if only they could fall into sync.
"When you lose, there are obviously reasons why you lose," Wright said. "If you played perfectly every day, you obviously wouldn't lose that much."
So the Mets know what they have to do. They just have to figure out where to start.