WASHINGTON -- The passing of Sunday's trade deadline had little effect on the Mets, whose roster remained intact for the short flight home from the nation's capital.
Just as Sandy Alderson had pledged, the general manager made no additional deals before the 4 p.m. cutoff, with the hope that maybe this group could surprise some people in the next two months by getting to the playoffs.
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It was a well-meaning gesture. But after the subtraction of Carlos Beltran last week, the Mets realize what they are up against -- and Sunday's 3-2 loss, the second straight to the lowly Nationals, was like a cold splash of reality on another broiling afternoon in D.C.
Scott Hairston homered twice in the final three innings, including a tying shot with two outs in the ninth. But Ian Desmond's infield single -- which took a freakishly high bounce over Bobby Parnell's head -- allowed Rick Ankiel to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Jonathon Niese allowed his only two runs on three straight doubles in the sixth inning as the Mets slipped to 55-53, but the Braves' loss to the Marlins still kept them within 7 1/2 games of the wild-card leader. That deficit is not insurmountable with 54 games remaining, but the odds are long, and the Mets will need to pick up the pace.
"Right now, we think we're still playing for something," manager Terry Collins said. "We're here to win games, too."
Collins talked last week about speaking to his team in the wake of Beltran's trade to the Giants, but he kept postponing it as long as the Mets kept winning. By Sunday, his enthusiasm for such a conversation seemed to have waned.
Collins suggested it might turn out to be a brief chat on the team plane, maybe with the help of a guest speaker such as Mike Pelfrey. At this point, however, there's really not much left to say. The Mets went 3-2 in their five games without Beltran and finished a tumultuous three-city trip at 6-4.
Still, with only two months left, they need to get greedy with the players they still have left. As the Phillies and Braves made deals during the weekend, the Mets figured it would be quiet after Beltran's departure.
"As far as we're concerned, the writing was on the wall," David Wright said. "It was pretty well-documented what we were going to do, and we did it. There were no surprises. Now we just move on."
The Mets sandwiched a five-game winning streak between series losses to the Marlins and Nationals, which made the trip a bit more frustrating because of the midweek momentum they had gained.
If Alderson had budged on Hairston -- the Braves and Red Sox made inquiries -- the Mets might have been shut out for a second straight game Sunday.
Hairston snapped their 18-inning scoreless streak with a pinch-hit home run off reliever Sean Burnett that opened the seventh and trimmed the Mets' deficit to 2-1. It was the sixth pinch-hit home run of his career and third this season, with his last one July 8 off Giants closer Brian Wilson at AT&T Park.
Then at 4:25 p.m. -- minutes past the non-waivers deadline -- Hairston crushed his second home run. With two outs and the Mets trailing 2-1, Hairston took a ball from Nats closer Drew Storen before drilling the tying homer into the visitors' bullpen in left-center.
Good thing that Hairston -- whose brother Jerry Jr. was traded Saturday from the Nats to the Brewers -- wasn't distracted by the rumors swirling around him.
"I wasn't thinking about a trade at all," he said. "I hadn't heard anything. I wanted to keep my focus on the day at hand."
Plus, Hairston still could be moved. Players now need to be placed on waivers before they can be traded. It increases the complexity of trades but doesn't eliminate them.
"It's not over," Collins said. "Believe me, it's a long way from over."