NEW YORK -- One of the steepest slides in recent memory continued Monday at Citi Field, with the Mets losing for the ninth time in 10 games since the All-Star break. As they have for much of this stretch that has unraveled their season, the Mets kept it close for most of the evening. But they ultimately lost, 8-2 to the Nationals, after Bryce Harper hit an RBI single in the 10th inning to break the tie for good.
It was a bleak scene in Flushing, made bleaker by the steady rain that fell throughout the winning rally. Stuck in a tie game in the 10th, the Nationals put their first two runners on base via a single and a fielding error, which shortstop Ruben Tejada committed after Roger Bernadina spiked him in the right shin while sliding into second base. Following a bunt forceout and another single, Harper smoked a Pedro Beato curveball into right field to plate the tiebreaking run.
"There's not much you can do except try to put guys in there where you think they're going to get people out," manager Terry Collins said. "You try to stay upbeat. You try not to look defeated on the mound."
The next batter, Ryan Zimmerman, hit a bases-clearing double to put the game out of reach, before Michael Morse ran up the score with a two-run homer. Within an hour, the Mets had optioned Beato back to Triple-A Buffalo to make room for top prospect Matt Harvey, who will start Thursday's series opener in Phoenix.
"All those pitches were over the plate, and they took advantage of them," Beato said. "You try to go out there and do a job, and you fail."
The Nats jumped out to a quick lead on Harper's two-run homer in the first inning against Mets starter Chris Young, who allowed all three of his hits in that inning. Young settled down from there, retiring 18 of 19 batters from the first through seventh innings in one of his best stretches of the year. He struck out seven and walked three, both season highs.
"It's a good outing, but it's not good enough," Young said. "I'll keep building on it. I hope to get stronger as the season progresses. But it's just tough to evaluate that stuff right now. Ultimately it's a team loss, and that's all I really care about."
Nonetheless, Young's effort allowed the Mets to claw back into the game, inching within one on David Wright's homer against starter Jordan Zimmermann in the fourth inning, then tying things on Ike Davis' solo shot off Mike Gonzalez in the seventh. Davis now has seven home runs in 108 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, versus eight homers in 231 plate appearances against righties -- odd splits for a lefty slugger.
Zimmermann lasted six innings, striking out six, walking no one and allowing four hits. He, like Young, received a no-decision after the game tilted late.
"They know us, we know them," Morse said of the Mets, who dropped a similar game on Beato's walk-off wild pitch last week in Washington. "So we know what they're capable of doing late into games, and we know what we're capable of doing. It's a good battle."
Hours earlier, it seemed to be a day of optimism for the Mets, who spent their pregame hours welcoming Harvey into the clubhouse. Officially joining the active roster late Monday night, Harvey is scheduled to make his big league debut two days later against the D-backs.
But any optimism around the Mets these days is tempered -- and not simply due to the losses on the field. Both Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson warned not to expect too much out of Harvey, despite his pedigree as one of the top pitching prospects in franchise history. Alderson also said not to expect the Mets to make noise before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, intimating that they will be neither buyers nor sellers.
And yet the Mets have proven since the All-Star break that they need help in many aspects of the game, none more than the bullpen. Because no cavalry is coming, they may have to continue enduring nights like these.
"It's frustrating, but that's part of the game," Young said. "It seems like we're one play away, one bounce, one break. When things are going good, you get those. When things are going bad, they go against you. We've got to find a way to make our own luck and make that break."