WASHINGTON — In one motion, Jose Bautista whiffed at a pitch that was very up and sort of in, so he also ducked from it. It was strike three — and the 10th pitch of the at-bat — but when the ball flew to the backstop, Bautista gave it a look, seemed to consider running to first base and headed back to the dugout instead.
It was that kind of game for the Mets, who lost to the Nationals, 5-3, on Wednesday. They were swept in the two-game, 20-hour series and dropped to 44-61 on the year.
“You gotta run,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “I think he knows it. He didn’t realize where the ball went. I think he thought it was down at the feet. By the time he realized it, he thought the catcher was there I’m sure.”
Bautista said: “It was close to my head. I couldn’t stop my swing. I definitely didn’t see (the ball go to the backstop). I was trying to get out of the way. I heard the sound, thought (catcher Spencer Kieboom) caught it. By the time I looked back, it was too late.”
Two unearned runs against Seth Lugo in the bottom of the eighth, courtesy of throwing errors by second baseman Jose Reyes and first baseman Wilmer Flores, were the difference. Flores’ came on Matt Adams’ bouncer toward first with the bases loaded. He fielded and fired to second to try to get a force out, but the throw pulled shortstop Amed Rosario off the bag, scoring a run (and extending the inning for a sacrifice fly from Wilmer Difo).
Callaway said it would have been better if Flores, who is not a natural first baseman and has encountered this issue previously this season, charged the ball more aggressively. That would have given the Mets an outside shot at a double play.
“You have to commit to it,” Callaway said.
Lefthander Tommy Milone shut the Mets down, striking out nine (his most in five years) and walking none in seven innings (longest in two years). They had three hits and one run against Milone, who was making his second since posting an 8.56 ERA in 11 games for the Mets last season.
“Milone made some pretty good pitches,” Callaway said. “We probably should have been able to challenge him a little bit better.”
Three solo home runs constituted the Mets’ offense. The last came from Flores in the ninth, when leftfielder Juan Soto accidentally bopped the deep drive over the fence when he attempted to catch it.
The other two came from Reyes, who went deep in the fifth and eighth. He is the first player in major-league history to allow multiple homers as a pitcher — he got the eighth inning of the Mets’ 21-run loss Tuesday — and hit multiple homers in the team’s next game.
Noah Syndergaard — in his first start since contracting hand, foot and mouth disease almost two weeks ago — struggled early but settled in to last seven innings, allowing three runs. It was just the third time he recorded an out in the seventh this year.
After Anthony Rendon burned him for a two-run home run in the third, Syndergaard retired a dozen Nationals in a row. Syndergaard’s four strikeouts gave him 11 in three starts (17 innings) since returning from the finger injury that cost him seven weeks.
“As strange as his routine has been, he did a heck of a job,” Callaway said.
After a strange stretch — an OK opening two months, seven weeks on the DL with a finger injury, two starts bookending the All-Star break and another missed turn in the rotation due to a children’s virus — Syndergaard would appreciate normalcy the rest of the way.
“I kind of went through a roller coaster of emotions and events,” Syndergaard said. “It was encouraging, a step in the right direction … After today, hopefully I won’t have any more setbacks for the rest of the season and I’ll be able to finish the season strong.”