NEW YORK -- When Terry Collins took over as manager this past winter, he made a promise to Mets fans that the team they rooted for would "play the game the right way." For the most part, it was a promise made good.
Despite a blitzkrieg of injuries to a lineup that probably wasn't of playoff caliber to begin with, the Mets have hung around the .500 mark for most of the year due to the sort of hustle and focus Collins said his team would possess.
But Monday night's 3-2 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field begged the question of just how much these Mets have left in the tank. R.A. Dickey made his 10th straight quality start, but David Wright's fourth error in three games cost the Mets an early run and a punchless lineup managed just three hits against Ross Detwiler and the Nationals' bullpen.
The loss was New York's third in a row and its fifth in the past six games. It dropped the Mets to five games below .500, meaning New York will have to win 10 of its final 15 games in order to reach Collins' stated goal of finishing with an even won-loss record.
"I think their effort's there, I just think today we lost focus on some things," Collins said. "The attention is away from the game right now, and that's an issue with me. You've got to focus on the game."
Wright's error came in the fifth and led to the first run of the game. With nobody out and a runner on second, Dickey got Rick Ankiel to hit a grounder to shortstop that Jose Reyes fielded cleanly. With Jayson Werth headed for third, Reyes threw to Wright, who was backpedaling toward the base. Reyes' throw was slightly low and Wright was charged with an error for dropping it, allowing both Werth and Ankiel to be safe. Dickey struck out Chris Marrero, but Wilson Ramos brought home the unearned run with a hard single up the middle.
Reyes and Wright's botched exchange comes just two days after the pair combined for four errors in a loss to the Cubs.
"Outside of the homestand, [Wright's] played great," Collins said. "Here, he's gotten a couple breaks where he hasn't gotten the ball out of his glove cleanly and it's caught the end of his glove and he's dropped a couple. Tonight, I think he just took his eye off the ball on that play at third."
The Nationals doubled their lead one inning later before the Mets rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth by capitalizing on a pair of no-out walks issued by Detwiler that would ultimately lead to his removal. Wright cut the lead in half with a line-drive single to center, then Angel Pagan tied the game with a double to right field. Jason Bay had a chance to put the Mets ahead, but reliever Todd Coffey struck out the reigning National League Player of the Week with a slider in the dirt to end the threat. On the day Bay won the award, he went 0-for-3 with a walk and twice struck out with runners in scoring position.
Washington regained the lead for good in the next half-inning on a ground-ball single by Steve Lombardozzi, his first Major League hit. Dickey left after the frame having given up three runs, two earned, on eight hits. He struck out seven and did not allow a walk, but gave up hits to five of the final 12 hitters he faced after retiring 10 straight batters between the first and fourth innings.
"I thought it was great, and I thought it was a fitting inning. I saw Harry Potter [actor Daniel Radcliffe] today [at an event in Manhattan], so maybe we have a little magic," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Lombardozzi's hit. "He was 0-for-15. What a way to get your first big league hit, with a game-winner. It couldn't be any better than that."
After being charged with the loss Monday, Dickey has two no-decisions and four losses during his 10-game quality start streak. Though he is still two wins shy of 10 for the season despite a 3.43 ERA, Dickey's not thinking about his win total.
"It's important to me as far as that's two more wins than we would have now as a team," Dickey said. "That statistic for me personally doesn't hold as much weight as the others. If I can continue to keep us in games and continue to put quality outings out there, that's what's important for me."
The Mets did not get a hit after the sixth inning, succumbing to two perfect innings by Tyler Clippard before Drew Storen shut the door with a scoreless ninth.
Though things look bleak for the Mets' pursuit of .500, Collins remains steadfast that an upcoming trip to NL Wild Card contenders St. Louis and Atlanta will refocus his club and inspire his players to play the game the right way once again.
"Our energy will be lifted on the road," Collins said. "There's a dogfight going on for that Wild Card, we're going to face the two dogs that are in it. So we better be ready."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.