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Mets drop rubber game on late homer

Mets drop rubber game on late homer

NEW YORK -- The speed at which the human mind calculates cause and effect is extraordinary. Jeff Francoeur did the math. In the New York second required for a baseball to travel from the sweet spot on his bat until it passed into outfield territory -- a hit, two bases, two runs -- maybe three, a 7-4 lead and, most likely, a Mets victory against those pesky and improving Nats.

The next nanosecond, however, changed sides; it became a Washington moment, one that will stick with Francoeur and his colleagues well beyond their arrival in Florida on Wednesday night. The line drive with game-winning aspirations never touched down. Instead it was intercepted by Roger Bernadina, one of the collection of right fielders the Nationals have employed since the exile of Elijah Dukes in Spring Training. The calculations were instantly revised: Three outs, three runners left on base, 25 frustrated Mets.

Francoeur's intended rush to second base ended several steps beyond first with a helmet slam that Gregg Jefferies would have admired. The Mets didn't lose at that instant -- four innings remained in their matinee engagement. But that juncture was where they didn't win.

Bernadino did them in in the ninth inning, too. He hit his second big league home run -- his first had come in the fourth inning -- against Frankie Rodriguez to provide the decisive runs in a 6-4 loss the Mets found particularly unsettling when they did more calculations: They have lost three of their past four games, four of six games against and both series against the Nationals and all six of the rubber games they've played in this uneven season.

Forty-something years ago, Casey Stengel found a remedy when his Mets team suffered from the same malady.

"Play the third game first," was his suggestion. Alas, that option wasn't available to these Mets. They were rubber stamped again.

"I'm getting sick of losing rubber games, sick of losing games, period," Francoeur said. "That ball gets down, and it's pretty likely we get this one. Three runs at that point changes a lot. He made a great play. It almost makes me wish I just flied out to center field. He ruined my day, I'll tell you that."

It was a thoroughly unpleasant afternoon for the Mets before and after Bernadino's dazzling catch and home run heroism. Citi Field produced an unplanned link between the game and the pregame program, identified as Weather Education Day, presented for school-age children. The game began, endured -- for three hours, 33 minutes -- and ended as a lesson in uncomfortable conditions -- raw, dank and generally nasty. And, ultimately, the experience proved more distasteful for the Mets.

They had lost a game Mike Pelfrey started for the second time. They had split a six-game homestand. Such short fall hardly is consistent with the team's spoken objective -- contention.

That it was a virtual unknown who brought them down made the day more repugnant. Bernadina had gone 115 big league at-bats without a home run before he hit the second homer Pelfrey has allowed in what now is 43 innings. Then three at-bats later, Rodriguez threw him an 0-1 fastball. On getaway day, the Mets closer didn't get away with it. Rodriguez (2-1) has allowed nine home runs in 85 2/3 innings in one-plus season with the Mets.

"If you miss your spot, you're going to pay for your mistake," Rodriguez said. "That one is on me. I let it get away."

It was the catch, though, that most vexed the Mets.

"You have to tip your cap to him. He had the game of his career," Francoeur said. "I'm getting sick of tipping my cap too. No more tipping. ... If he makes that play with one man on first base or in a 7-0 game. ... 'Hey, hang with 'em.' But I've been feeling better at the plate each day. This could have been the one to get me going. And you see it and he's not there. You know you've got a big hit. And then he dives.

"It was his day. ... I didn't want it to be his day."

It wasn't Pelfrey's day, either. His seventh start lasted 5 2/3 innings. He surrendered seven hits and three walks and struck out six. His first five outs were strikeouts. He threw 119 pitches, equaling his career high.

He twice fell behind by two runs. Nationals starter Craig Stammen singled with the bases loaded and two outs for two runs in the second after Pelfrey had struck out Bernadina and Wil Nieves. Pelfrey's single and a sacrifice fly by Angel Pagan produced the Mets' first two runs in the bottom of the inning.

Bernadina's first homer and another run-scoring single by Stammen restored the Nationals' two-run advantage in the fourth.

"It's usually going to be a long day when the pitcher has three RBIs on their side," Pelfrey said.

But the Mets tied the score in the fifth on three straight hits -- a leadoff double by Pagan, a run-scoring single by Alex Cora and a double by Jose Reyes. Reyes unwisely tried to advance to third on Jason Bay's grounder to shortstop and was thrown out by a wide margin, before Stammen walked David Wright and Ike Davis to load the bases for Francoeur - and the other right fielder.

"No way I can make that catch," Francoeur would say later. "When I got out there the next inning, I was looking. How could he do that? Why did he have to?"

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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