Back to reality for Mets without ace Matt Harvey

Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper and right

Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper and right fielder Jayson Werth welcome home first baseman Adam LaRoche after his three-run homer in the top of the fifth. (April 20, 2013) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Back to the Mets you've known for all these years. Roughly 20 hours after their Matt Harvey metamorphosis, in which the Mets were transformed into an efficient ensemble complementing their new-found pitching ace, it was a return to the reality of toil and trouble in a 7-6 loss to the Nationals Saturday.

Though they twice rallied to overcome Washington leads, the Mets ultimately were done in by Bryce Harper's second home run of the game, a moon-launch on the first pitch of the eighth inning from Josh Edgin, the third of five Mets relievers.

"One bad pitch and he hits it out of the ballpark," Edgin said, "and that's the ballgame. You know, as a team, we fought back, and one bad pitch. He very well could've popped that ball up. But he didn't. He hit it a long ways."

The pregame dog parade for canine-friendly Citi Field fans provided an unfortunate metaphor for the home team's too familiar fate on a chilly, windswept afternoon. Down 3-0 before starter Jeremy Hefner was chased after four rocky innings, the Mets nevertheless found a burst of offensive energy for a five-run fourth inning to take a two-run lead.

But that lasted only as long as Aaron Laffey, whose relief appearance of two-thirds of an inning was not the least bit funny. With two outs and no one on, Laffey surrendered a walk, a double by Harper and Adam LaRoche's three-run homer that gave Washington a 6-5 lead.

There still was hope for the Mets when catcher John Buck's two-out RBI double tied the game in the seventh. But Harper, who finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored and three RBIs, put a stop to any carry-over from Harvey's gem Friday night and the Mets' conquest of Washington ace Stephen Strasburg.

"Keep the momentum; that definitely was the goal today," Hefner said. "In my mind, I wanted to go 2-0 against those guys."

Instead, he was scolding himself for "a lack of concentration on a couple of pitches" on a day that began with the conviction that 24-year-old Harvey, who gilded his record to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 0.93, not only was a star born but a reference point for new Mets possibilities.

"I tell you what," Mets manager Terry Collins said, "there's going to be a lot of years we're going to be talking about this guy [Harvey]; he's going to be something."

There also were high hopes that feast-or-famine sluggers Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, having hit two homers apiece Friday night, might be finding their groove.

Alas, Davis was 0-for-4, with three strikeouts and a 20-foot groundout to the pitcher. Duda walked twice but, in two official at-bats, struck out and hit a weak floater to short.

The most productive blows in the Mets' big fourth inning were a pair of two-run singles by Collin Cowgill and Justin Turner. But from the fifth inning on, the Mets had only two hits.

"Obviously disappointing," Mets captain David Wright said. "You get five runs off [Washington starter Gio Gonzalez], we got to win that game. The name of the game is to get momentum on your side . . . That's what good teams do; they find a way to get the momentum back. That's something we haven't been good at this year, winning those close games."

The only thing to do, Collins said, is "come back tomorrow and keep trying to grind it out."

And there is always the knowledge that, three days from now, Harvey will be back on the mound.

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