WASHINGTON -- A few more heartbreaking losses like this one, and general manager Sandy Alderson will have a much easier time selling his vision for the franchise's future.
Nobody around the Mets will be thinking about 2012 anyway.
What began as a season to dream big and prove the naysayers wrong is quickly reaching critical mass, a process further hastened last night for the Mets by a frenetic 5-4 loss to the Nationals in 10 innings that had to be seen to believed.
It was a game decided by Pedro Beato's wild pitch with the bases loaded -- a bouncer that skipped away from Josh Thole and allowed Ryan Zimmerman to score. This wasn't so much a loss as a cry for help -- bullpen help, to be exact.
The Mets blew two save chances, one by Bobby Parnell in the ninth inning and another by Tim Byrdak in the 10th. Both came after Jordany Valdespin, who pinch hit for Jason Bay in the ninth, drilled a three-run homer to give the Mets a 3-2 lead. Thole hit a go-ahead RBI double in the 10th.
Those heroic efforts still failed to fend off the Mets' fifth straight loss -- their longest losing streak of the season -- which dropped them to two games over .500 (46-44) for the first time since May 19.
"We have two options," said David Wright, whose back-to-back singles with Thole teed up the ninth-inning rally for Valdespin. "We can either grind it out like we have all year or fold up shop and go through the motions. Hopefully we choose the first one."
In the 10th, Bryce Harper hit a tying RBI triple that forced Byrdak to intentionally walk the next two batters to load the bases for Adam LaRoche. So the Mets pulled the infield in and got what they wanted when LaRoche hit a hard grounder to Ike Davis, who easily got the forceout at the plate. In came Beato to face Tyler Moore. After being up 0-and-2 in the count and then missing away, Beato tried to get Moore to swing over a curveball. Instead, his pitch bounced away from Thole.
"I've got to block it -- that's the bottom line," Thole said. "I was ready to block it and I just didn't get it done."
That last part was the most commonly used phrase among the Mets' relievers. Byrdak served up a leadoff single to Jhonatan Solano before Harper's one-rocket over Scott Hairston's head in rightfield.
"Our job is to close the door and we didn't do it," Byrdak said. "They grinded it out for 27 outs and we didn't do our job."
Parnell came within one strike of closing out a messy ninth before Danny Espinosa's two-out single tied it at 3. After the Nats stung him for a pair of singles, Parnell whiffed Moore on three straight curveballs and then threw five curveballs against Espinosa. But Parnell tried a 2-and-2 fastball -- coming in hot at 99 mph -- and Espinosa smacked a line-drive single into centerfield. Parnell was fine with the pitch selection. He just left it in a bad spot.
"I threw it into his swing path," he said. "To 99 percent of the hitters, it's a great pitch. But to him it was in his swing path and he barreled it up."
As down as Parnell felt afterward, he put things in perspective for a team teetering on the brink. "We don't have the time or energy to waste being mad at ourselves," Parnell said.
Still, that was a sobering sight for the Mets, who earlier had been celebrating with the excitable Valdespin. In the ninth, with the Mets down 2-0, Valdespin launched a high fly ball that appeared to clear the rightfield wall. But the ball kicked back onto the field, and despite Valdespin circling his finger in the air as he rounded the bases, the umpires decided to review their call. It took only a few minutes to be confirmed -- and only a few more to later be rendered meaningless.
"It's time to reach down inside for whatever you have left and make something of the remainder of this trip," manager Terry Collins said. "You've got to be able to fight until your last breath. We'll continue to do that."