NEW YORK -- Jason Bay never argues, was manager Terry Collins' contention. He never complains. And yet Bay did have something to say to home-plate umpire Larry Vanover in the sixth inning Wednesday, in part because the pitch was a ball and in part because of his frustration. Without David Wright in the lineup, and with Johan Santana stringing up as many zeroes as he could, the Mets were counting on Bay and Ike Davis to produce. Bay and Davis were counting on themselves.
Instead, Bay, Davis and the rest of the Mets wilted against Stephen Strasburg and a trio of Nationals relievers on Wednesday. They lost, 4-0, in a game that even Collins said should not have been that close. They looked overmatched without Wright in the lineup, their pitching walked 10 batters, and their frustration showed; Collins was ejected, Bay was again booed, and the Mets found little to celebrate on the 50th anniversary of their first game.
"Anytime you take a hit like that, it definitely hurts," catcher Josh Thole said of Wright's absence. "No doubt about it. But I think we've got the right group in here to overcome that. As a unit, we have to. You can't look back and say, 'Only if we had David,' or 'Only if we had this.' No, no. We've got to get the job done."
The one man who did all the Mets hoped was Santana, whose early ineffectiveness gave way to a strong showing throughout the middle innings. After allowing a run to score on a wild pitch in the second inning, Santana retired 10 consecutive batters through the fifth, even convincing Collins to let him start the sixth inning at 93 pitches. Before the game began, Santana and Collins had discussed a 105-pitch limit for the lefty, who wound up walking the only batter he faced in the sixth to finish with 99.
He was vintage at times, slinging his changeup in and out of the strike zone. At others, he was mortal, walking three batters and allowing five hits. During one early juncture, Santana threw first-pitch balls to six consecutive batters.
"It was a tough challenge out there, but it was good to see that I was able to go beyond 80 pitches, and able to go out there without any problems," Santana said. "Unfortunately we didn't win, but as far as how I'm doing, I think I'm making progress."
"He made me look stupid with that changeup, that's for sure," said Strasburg, who struck out twice against Santana. "It's impressive -- not only what he did today, but just to be able to come back from all those injuries and stuff, and still have the command and everything."
Yet coming back from injuries is what has vexed the Mets more than anything this season. The club may have bounced back easily enough from Andres Torres' left calf strain on Opening Day, but has not fared so well since Wright fractured his right pinkie finger in Monday's game. Without Wright in the lineup, the Mets have scored two runs and recorded nine hits in 18 innings, albeit against two of the division's better young pitchers.
Even Wednesday, when Davis singled in the sixth to snap a personal 0-for-18 funk to start the year, the Mets could not construct anything substantial. With that hit, the Mets had two runners on base with just one out, bringing Bay to the plate. Fast forward two balls and two strikes, to the moment when Bay took Strasburg's fifth pitch off the outside corner. Vanover called it a strike. Bay jawed at him. Half an inning later, Collins came out of the dugout with an ejection wish.
"You're out there battling your butt off," Bay said of his frustration at the call. "And Strasburg's pretty good in his own right."
Mostly, Bay credited Strasburg's ability to fight back from behind in the count, where the right-hander often found himself Wednesday. Facing Davis in the first inning, for example, Strasburg followed up a 3-1 changeup on the outside corner with a 3-2 curve that nicked the inside edge.
He was, in short, what opponents call a buzzsaw and teammates call an ace. Strasburg bullied the Mets to their second consecutive loss after four straight wins to open the season, not caring that Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels await them this weekend in Philadelphia.
Call it a disappointment. More than 4,000 fans bought walk-up tickets at Citi Field on Wednesday, the highest total for any game in stadium history. For most of the past week, the Mets were the talk of New York.
They will need to avoid more days like Wednesday if they have any intentions of maintaining that vibe.