WASHINGTON - The Mets, at the very least, kept their shirts on for all nine innings of Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Nationals. What's remaining of their pride and dignity already has been stripped away, either by allegations of front-office mayhem or simply playing bad baseball.

With Tony Bernazard safely tucked away in New Jersey, the Mets didn't have to worry about setting off the rampaging VP by taking the wrong seat on the bus or the last crab leg from the clubhouse spread. Instead, Jeff Francoeur - the former Gold Glover - botched a fly ball to rightfield for the second time in as many nights and Luis Castillo got himself ejected from a game knowing Fernando Tatis was the only reserve infielder on the bench.

Mike Pelfrey (7-6) allowed six hits and three runs in seven innings, which was just good enough to lose. After Francoeur lost Adam Dunn's line drive in the lights in the sixth inning, Josh Willingham followed with a two-run homer that snapped a tie at 1.

Afterward, Pelfrey described it as one of his best outings of the year. He reached 96 mph on the radar gun and had good command of his pitches. It also was the first time the Mets have lost this season when Pelfrey has made it at least seven innings.

"That's me," Pelfrey said. "That's the Mike that I haven't been for a while."


The Mets, who were shut out Tuesday, broke a 14-inning scoreless streak in the sixth when Angel Pagan tripled with two outs and hustled home when shortstop Cristian Guzman airmailed his relay throw over third base. With the loss, the Mets dropped to a season-high six games under .500 (44-50) and remained 10 games behind the Phillies.

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The Mets were down to three bench players because of injuries to Gary Sheffield (hamstring) and Alex Cora (thumb). But that didn't stop Castillo from throwing a brief tantrum - and getting tossed for it - in the second inning. When Hunter Wendelstedt ruled that he did not scoop a throw from David Wright, Castillo started a shouting match that got him ejected before Jerry Manuel even arrived to defuse it.

The unexpected development forced Manuel to use Tatis at second base for the fifth time this season, but he's not the one that hurt the Mets defensively. That was Francoeur, who ducked away from Dunn's ball after losing it in the lights. "I don't know what else to say," said Francoeur, who flat-out dropped a ball on Tuesday. "It's not exactly the highest lights here."

Notes & quotes: Cora was unavailable to play after aggravating his injured right thumb in Tuesday's loss. Cora has played with a splint since he suffered a torn ligament in that thumb in May and is likely to need surgery after the season. On Tuesday, Cora used his right hand to brace himself while taking a throw from Francoeur and felt a twinge. He remained in the game but was bothered by it in subsequent at-bats. "I'll take two days off and see how it feels Friday," Cora said . . . The Gary Sheffield Watch reached Day 6 and Manuel will wait until Friday to see if his hamstring is OK or if he needs to go on the DL.