One by one, the pillars of this Mets' team are coming down, and even R.A. Dickey is starting to show a few too many cracks to prevent the roof from caving in. It's not enough for Dickey to be good these days -- he must be near perfect -- and his mistakes proved fatal last night in the Mets' 5-2 loss to the Nationals.

Dickey, who had won 11 straight decisions, allowed five runs (four earned) and eight hits in six innings to suffer only his second loss this season -- and first since April 18, otherwise known as his self-described "water-balloon" game in the rain at Turner Field.

The conditions were fine last night at Citi Field, aside from a sticky first-pitch temperature of 90 degrees, but Dickey's knuckleball seemed to become more hittable as the night wore on. The Nats stung him for five hits and four runs in the sixth inning alone -- all with two outs -- and Adam LaRoche took him deep on to the Pepsi Porch for a two-run homer.

"That one wasn't even up -- it was just right into his swing plane," said Dickey, who now has a 5.36 ERA over his last seven games, including six starts. "It's tough. When things are going on what seems to be a downward spiral, the tendency is to say, 'Woe is me.' In order to change it, we have to stand up, and own what's ours to own."

Here's what the Mets own: another second-half freefall of five straight losses and 11 in 12 games. They're 1-10 since the All-Star break and slipped to three games below .500 (47-50) and 10 1/2 behind the Nationals. At this point last season, through 97 games, the Mets were 49-48. In case you were wondering, it's Jeremy Hefner -- the stand-in for Johan Santana -- against Stephen Strasburg in today's series finale.

"Right now, we are not a bad team -- we're playing bad," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to reach down inside and find out what we're made of. We had an easy run in the first half and now we'll find out who's willing to grind it out."

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Rather than add a player or two before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets seem more intent on dumping them, and they demoted the struggling Lucas Duda before Tuesday's game. It wasn't exactly a cure-all for the Mets' offensive woes. They took advantage of Danny Espinosa's throwing error to score an unearned run in the second inning for a 1-0 lead.

But that was it against Gio Gonzalez, who allowed only two hits over seven innings, and Jordany Valdespin added the other run with his fifth pinch-hit homer, a franchise record, off Ryan Mattheus to open the eighth.

"We're just not playing well," David Wright said. "We're not doing the things that ultimately lead to winning games. But the resiliency in here has been fantastic all year. We're not going to allow this stretch to define us."

But do the Mets have a choice? Dickey had his good knuckler early and retired nine of the first 11 batters - striking out five - before the Nationals tied the score at 1 in the fourth inning on a pair of doubles by Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa.

That seemed like a minor blip at the time as Dickey smoothed things over with a perfect fifth. But the game unraveled the very next inning as the Nats scored four runs - all coming with two outs.

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Michael Morse, despite an 0-and-2 count, started the trouble with a base hit to leftfield and LaRoche stunned the Citi Field crowd with a long home run that landed about 15 rows deep on the Pepsi Porch.

Three more singles - one a dribbler by Roger Bernadina up the first-base line that Ike Davis couldn't handle - produced two more runs, thanks to a throwing error by Jason Bay. The first one came in clean on Jesus Flores' single, but Bay's looping, off-target throw to the plate skipped away from Mike Nickeas to allow the Nats to go ahead, 5-1.

"Sure it's surprising," Dickey said. "It's disappointing, its sad - it's all those things. Nobody in here to a man wants to perform like this, wants to have a record like this. We've lost a lot of close games. But at the same time, you've got to win some of them too. And were not."

One by one, the pillars of this Mets team are coming down, and even R.A. Dickey is starting to show a few too many cracks to prevent the roof from caving in. It's not enough for Dickey to be good these days -- he must be near perfect -- and his mistakes proved fatal Tuesday night in the Mets' 5-2 loss to the Nationals.

Dickey, who had won 11 straight decisions, allowed all five runs (four earned) and eight hits in six innings to suffer only his second loss this season -- and first since April 18, otherwise known as his self-described "water-balloon" game in the rain at Turner Field.

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The conditions were fine Tuesday night at Citi Field, aside from a sticky first-pitch temperature of 90 degrees, but Dickey's knuckleball seemed to become more hittable as the night wore on. The Nats stung him for five hits and four runs in the sixth inning -- all with two outs -- and Adam LaRoche took him deep to the Pepsi Porch for a two-run homer that broke a 1-1 tie.

That sealed the Mets' fifth straight loss and 11th in 12 games. They're 1-10 since the All-Star break, their free-fall not showing any signs of slowing down. They slipped to three games below .500 (47-50) and 10 1/2 behind the Nats. At this point last season, through 97 games, the Mets were 49-48. This season, there's no Carlos Beltran to unload, and Terry Collins isn't betting on the front office bailing them out.

"I don't think we're going to sell the farm to get a guy for two months when you're 8 1/2 games out," the manager said before the game. "I would have a tough time seeing that happening. We've got to put some wins on the board."

The Mets demoted the struggling Lucas Duda before Tuesday night's game, but that wasn't exactly a cure-all for the Mets' offensive woes. They took advantage of Danny Espinosa's throwing error to score an unearned run in the second inning for a 1-0 lead.

But that was it against Gio Gonzalez (13-5, 3.13), who allowed only two hits over seven innings. Jordany Valdespin added the other Mets' run with his fifth pinch-hit homer of the season, a franchise record, off Ryan Mattheus to open the eighth.

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Dickey (13-2, 2.97) had his good knuckler early. He retired nine of the first 11 batters, striking out five, before the Nationals tied the score at 1 in the fourth inning on doubles by Ryan Zimmerman and Espinosa.

That seemed like a minor blip at the time as Dickey smoothed things over with a perfect fifth. But the game unraveled the very next inning as the Nats scored four runs -- all with two outs.

Michael Morse started the trouble with a base hit to leftfield and LaRoche stunned the crowd with a long home run that landed about 15 rows deep on the Pepsi Porch. With the count 0-and-1, Dickey tried a low knuckler, but it stayed relatively flat, and that allowed La Roche to golf the ball as if it were sitting a knee-high tee.

Instantly, the Nats had a 3-1 lead, and it would get worse from there. Three more singles -- one a dribbler by Roger Bernadina up the first-base line that Ike Davis couldn't handle -- produced two more runs, thanks to a throwing error by Jason Bay. The first one came in clean on Jesus Flores' single, but Bay's looping, off-target throw to the plate skipped away from Mike Nickeas to allow the Nats to go ahead 5-1.

The Mets trotted out their Duda-free lineup for the rematch with Gonzalez, who didn't make it out of the fourth inning in their meeting last Thursday in Washington. Duda used to be the one lefthanded hitter that Collins would trust against lefties. But after he was dispatched to Triple-A Buffalo, Scott Hairston (0-for-4) started in rightfield, and the Mets had to get back to the business of winning a game.

"Right now, we've got to make a stand," Collins said before the game, "because when we come out of this two-week stretch, we've still got to be in the hunt. We just have not been able to get that big hit that can put us over the top in those close games. It's the same story."