WASHINGTON - When this long, tiring road trip for the Mets finally was over, Francisco Rodriguez launched into his customary post-save celebration, pointing to the sky with both arms raised.
What K-Rod should have done was run over to hug Ike Davis. If not for the first baseman's diving stop of Roger Bernadina's sharp grounder in the ninth inning, the Mets might have had a much unhappier ending than Sunday's 9-5 victory over the Nationals.
Rodriguez, who blew a two-run lead in Saturday's loss, relieved Bobby Parnell with none out and runners at first and second. The first batter? Adam Dunn, who barely missed hitting a grand slam off Rodriguez the previous day.
But Rodriguez got Dunn to bounce into a forceout at second and struck out Josh Willingham. Next up was Bernadina, whom K-Rod picked off second to end Friday's win, and he smacked a hard grounder. Davis smothered it with a nifty grab before flipping to Rodriguez to seal his 20th save.
"That's the best thing that can happen, to give me the opportunity the next day to shut the door," Rodriguez said. "After the embarrassing performance I had yesterday, I just wanted to go out there and redeem myself. To get a little revenge."
It never should have come to that. The Mets built an 8-0 lead after four innings with Jason Bay driving in four runs and Davis crushing a two-run homer. But Hisanori Takahashi failed to retire any of the four batters he faced in the sixth. He gave up a three-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals later loaded the bases with none out against Elmer Dessens before he escaped to preserve the 8-3 lead.
The Mets were forced to burn through four pitchers between Takahashi's exit and K-Rod's arrival. Jerry Manuel said it was good to get him back in a save situation again, but he also said his bullpen is pretty much on empty without a break until Thursday.
"When we get back, we've got to look at our relief situation and maybe add someone or do something," Manuel said. "What we need is a day off tomorrow. Is it supposed to rain?"
The Mets got that rain when they least needed it - in Puerto Rico, where this seven-game trip began last Monday. The Mets, which went 3-4, played through difficult conditions in San Juan, endured a 70-minute rain delay before the finale and wound up arriving at their D.C. hotel at 7 a.m. for the start of the Nationals series.
By Sunday, the Mets had absorbed three walk-off losses in five days, raising their season total to 10 - the most in the majors. They also had to play the last five games without Jose Reyes, sidelined with a strained oblique muscle, and watched K-Rod unravel for his fourth blown save Saturday.
It was only fitting that the last day would be a struggle, too. When it was over, Angel Pagan asked for the official time of the game. When told it went 3 hours, 49 minutes, Pagan replied, "It felt like 10 hours."
To the Mets' credit, they easily shrugged off Saturday's demoralizing loss. They scored in the first inning for the sixth straight game when Bay ripped a two-out, two-run triple off the rightfield scoreboard that missed clearing the wall by a few feet. Pagan, who had three hits, including a pair of doubles, had an RBI single with two outs in the second and Davis added his two-run blast in the third, his 10th homer of the season.
The Mets made it 8-0 in the fourth on Bay's two-out, two-run single and Jeff Francoeur's RBI double, but they never got the chance to coast. A suspect bullpen and the pesky Nats made sure of that.
"We kind of held it together, albeit not in a timely fashion," Bay said. "But that's all that matters."