WASHINGTON -- With a chance to move into sole possession of first place in the National League East, the Mets Tuesday night let one slip through their fingers at Nationals Park. Three times.
Leading by a run, Frank Francisco allowed the Nationals to tie the score in the eighth.
Ahead again by a run, Jordany Valdespin made a pair of errors at shortstop in the 10th inning as the Nationals re-tied it.
After the Mets went ahead again in the 12th on Scott Hairston's home run, they lost the game in the bottom half, 7-6, on 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper's two-out, bases-loaded single to left off Elvin Ramirez.
Harper's line drive bounced into the glove of a diving Vinny Rottino, who held the ball up in an attempt to show he caught it. But he clearly trapped it.
Ramirez was making his second big-league appearance because the Mets had run out of relievers after choosing to play a man down with Jon Rauch back in New York nursing a sore elbow.
"It feels pretty bad," Hairston said. "It was one of those games where it was going back and forth, and we had a couple unfortunate situations out on the field where things didn't go our way."
With a win, the Mets would have moved one-half game ahead of Washington and Miami in the division. Instead, they are 1½ games behind the Nationals and have to be concerned with their short bullpen and problems at shortstop.
The Mets were hoping to get Ruben Tejada back on Friday, but he left Tuesday night's rehab game for Triple-A Buffalo after just two innings with tightness in his right quad and will be returning to Port St. Lucie, manager Terry Collins said. Tejada has been on the disabled list since May 7 with the same injury. Backup Ronny Cedeño is also on the DL with a calf strain.
Career minor-leaguer Omar Quintanilla started the game and had a throwing error for a Washington run in the fifth. Valdespin, who homered as a pinch hitter in the sixth, moved from leftfield to shortstop in the eighth and couldn't handle two routine grounders in the 10th.
Asked if any shortstop help could come from the organization, Collins said: "There is no such animal."
After a flyout, Ramirez threw a wild pitch to move Desmond to third. Collins had Ramirez intentionally walk Jesus Flores; Ramirez nearly threw the second pitch over Josh Thole's head for a game-ending wild pitch.
But both teams were out of position players. So pitcher Ross Detwiler, who gave up Hairston's homer in the top of the inning, had to bat. He walked to load the bases before Xavier Nady grounded into a first-to-home forceout for the second out to bring up Harper, whose hit came on an 0-and-2 pitch.
"The toughest part is the way we fought back," Collins said. "You're down three and we fight back. We get the lead, we lose the lead, we get the lead, we lose the lead, we get the lead. And then to lose the game, it's a little tough."
Trailing 3-0 in the sixth, the Mets got solo home runs from Valdespin and David Wright off Jordan Zimmermann to make it 3-2. Valdespin's homer was his second in the majors, both as a pinch hitter. Wright's was his seventh of the season and gave him a Mets' record 736 runs scored, one better than Jose Reyes.
Chris Young, who hadn't pitched in the majors since May 1, 2011 after shoulder surgery, allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings in his return to the Mets.
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