WASHINGTON - There will always be days when even supernovas like Mets righty Noah Syndergaard look utterly vulnerable.

In these instances, baseball makes it possible to be both underwhelming and impressive, all at the same time.

This was Syndergaard Wednesday, who despite laboring, gave his team a chance to win perhaps the most important game of the year thus far.

Until the 4-3 loss to the Nationals, most of Syndergaard's starts in his brief big- league career had mostly been all power and precision. But they all can't be fine art, and against the Nats, he splattered paint all over a blank canvas.

"I really had to battle out there," Syndergaard said. "I couldn't get comfortable."

He allowed five hits. He had more walks (five) than strikeouts (four), and barely more strikes (53) than balls (48).

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Yet when manager Terry Collins wisely shielded him from any more labor, Syndergaard had left his team with a 3-1 advantage.

The 22-year-old's performance emerged as the single biggest reason that the Mets even had a chance.

"I knew this was a huge game and a big series," Syndergaard said. "I'm pretty disappointed in the way I threw. Five walks, that can't really happen in the big leagues."

Yet Collins praised Syndergaard's ability to keep his composure, even as the Nationals launched waves of two-out rallies.

Said Collins: "Noah wasn't real sharp today, but he worked hard."

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Extra bases

Shortstop Ruben Tejada went 1-for-3 and extended his hitting streak to 10 games, going 14-for-42 in that span . . . Backup catcher Anthony Recker will start Thursday night against the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. Bartolo Colon (9-8) has enjoyed his best starts of the season with Recker behind the plate.

Said Collins: "For some reason, it works, it clicks."