WASHINGTON -- It all unraveled so quickly for Bobby Parnell.
A line drive double off the fence in right, a rising fastball that escaped the mitt of catcher John Buck, a tying single, a liner that fell between two outfielders. With the stage set, all it took was a medium fly ball in Tuesday night's frenzied ninth inning to send the reeling Mets to a 3-2 loss to the Nationals.
Parnell was forced to watch the Nationals storm the field after Steve Lombardozzi's sacrifice fly doomed the Mets.
"I struggled a little bit," said Parnell, who began the night with nine saves a 1.85 ERA. "It's not my first one. It's not my last one.
"I'll have to get them tomorrow."
Mets starter Jeremy Hefner allowed just one run in seven strong innings, departing with a 2-1 lead thanks to a two-run triple by Omar Quintanilla. But it wasn't enough to save the Mets from dropping their fourth straight game on a road trip that already includes an embarrassing sweep by the Marlins.
Parnell's blown save spoiled a strong effort for Hefner, who once again made his case for remaining in the starting rotation, though the Mets fell to 1-10 in his games. Hefner (1-5, 4.36 ERA) recorded his third consecutive quality start, scattering four hits and striking out seven for an underachieving Nationals lineup that is missing the injured Bryce Harper.
Indeed, each strong outing acts as more ammunition for Hefner to use in his case to keep his spot, especially as top prospect Zack Wheeler inches closer to a promotion. In perhaps another sign that the 23-year-old Wheeler could soon join the big- league team, Terry Collins spent part of Tuesday attempting to manage expectations.
"I hope everybody understands," Collins said. "If and when this guy comes, he's not going to be the savior. There's a lot of pieces that have to work. One guy is not going to turn this around for us. It takes 25."
At the start of the season, Hefner seemed to be the favorite for a demotion to make way for Wheeler. Instead, the righthander has outpitched Dillon Gee. He only furthered his case last night, leaving the game after the seventh with a 2-1 lead.
But with Parnell on to close the door, Ryan Zimmerman doubled to right-center, sliding into second just before a strong throw by centerfielder Rick Ankiel. Zimmerman moved to third on a fastball that sailed on Parnell, then scored on Adam LaRoche's clutch single to right.
Ian Desmond, who homered earlier in the game, followed with a double that dropped between leftfielder Mike Baxter and Ankiel. With the bases loaded after an intentional walk, Lombardozzi ended it with a fly ball to left, deep enough to score LaRoche and end Parnell's consecutive saves streak at seven.
"We were at the stage of the game exactly where we would've drawn it up at the beginning, and that's having Bobby up there with a lead in the ninth inning," Collins said. "It just didn't work tonight."