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Mets lose to Nationals after Steven Matz keeps them in it but pen doesn’t

Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz delivers a pitch

Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Thursday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For a change, the Mets entered a night with a real reason to look forward to tomorrow. They had the tangible, positive prospect of Noah Syndergaard finally getting a start. Then again, there was, is and possibly will be the problem of figuring out how their relievers can finish.

On the eve of getting a shot in the arm, with Syndergaard’s return from the disabled list scheduled for Friday, the Mets took another kick in the teeth from their own bullpen. Steven Matz kept them in the game, lasting into the seventh, but Jerry Blevins allowed a massive two-run homer by Bryce Harper in that inning that helped the Nationals to a 5-4 win at Citi Field.

The blast to rightfield gave Washington a 5-2 lead and gave the night a more-of-the-same feeling. That malaise is what makes the Mets eager to see Syndergaard and to consider what a healthy rotation might mean — even if it is just to add a chip or two before the non-waiver trade deadline.

Reality says the Mets can hope only for figurative tomorrows, the type that mean “someday.” That does not appear to be anytime soon. Despite a late comeback, on home runs by Kevin Plawecki in the seventh and Asdrubal Cabrera in the eighth, the Mets fell into a virtual tie with the Marlins for last place in the NL East.

Among their many woes, the bullpen ranks very high. “I understand that I’m here to get lefties out,” said Blevins, the lefty specialist. “Every pitch, I’m trying to make it perfect. It’s clearly not happening.”

The pitch to Harper, a slumping star who still has power in his bat, was perfect from a hitter’s perspective: right down the middle.

“Big-league hitters are going to hit that out,” Blevins said.

So the Mets again had to settle for little bits of progress and promise, such as the way Matz (4-7) hung in there after allowing a pair of home runs — a two-run blast in the first and a solo shot in the third — by Anthony Rendon. Resilience has been the hallmark of his maturation, inspiring Mickey Callaway to say, “He has done a great job. He’s been fantastic for us.”

Said Matz: “I felt pretty good out there. I made a few bad pitches, mainly on Rendon. That pretty much sums it up.”

His team hung close, thanks to an RBI single in the first and a home run to left-center in the fourth by Jose Bautista, who started at third base. Those did not come cheaply, either: They were hit with possible All-Star starter Max Scherzer (12-5) on the mound.

The righty is such a formidable force that Callaway chose to sit Amed Rosario out of concern that Rosario’s recent (and fragile) successful batting patterns could be thrown out of whack.

“Not that Rosario couldn’t hit Max Scherzer, but Max Scherzer is one of the toughest guys in the big leagues against righties,” Callaway said. “That’s just a fact.”

Rosario ultimately got into the game, against closer Ryan Madson, with one out and the potential tying run on first in the ninth. He grounded into a game-ending double play, sending the Mets tumbling toward their tomorrow.

Perhaps Syndergaard will give everyone a new lease on life Friday when he throws a pitch in a major-league game for the first time since May 25. “Whenever you get a guy like Noah back in the rotation, it’s always going to help you,” Matz said.

Who knows if a healthy rotation can make one bit of difference this season? Maybe the best the starters can do is prove themselves marketable. In any case, Callaway is looking forward to Syndergaard’s return and beyond.

“That’s going to be big. That’s what we want our rotation to be,” he said. “That will be nice, to have our big horses lined up and try to get the second half going in the direction we want it to go.”

For another night, though, it went backward again.

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