Their own bullpen struggled yet again, raising its post-All-Star-break ERA to 6.32 and its overall season mark to 5.03 -- dead last in the Majors. Saturday's scheduled starter, Miguel Batista, was the culprit in this one, coming on in the seventh to allow two critical insurance runs.
After retiring his first two batters on a strikeout and a sharp line drive, the right-hander served up three consecutive hits -- including Steve Lombardozzi's back-breaking two-run double on a pitch that Batista admitted to grooving down the middle. A batter earlier, Roger Bernadina struck Batista on the leg with a line-drive single, but the 41-year-old veteran stayed in the game following a mound meeting with manager Terry Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez.
Whether coincidental or not, the result was a hit that cost them a game.
"I believe that our bullpen is a good bullpen," said Batista, who also referred to the Mets as the best team in baseball despite their third-place standing in the division, now eight games back of the Nationals. "I believe our bullpen is way better than what it has shown in the last two months."
The Mets' best chance to score off Zimmermann came in the sixth, when Young led off with a double. But Ruben Tejada was unable to move him to third, instead popping up down the left-field line. The next batter, Daniel Murphy, grounded out, and David Wright lined out to end the inning.
"He's a man out there," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Zimmermann. "There's no doubt about it. He has a great presence. He knows what he wants to do. There's no muss, no fuss."
The Mets finally broke through against Washington's bullpen in the seventh, when Lucas Duda doubled with one out and Andres Torres singled him home. But in a one-run game, the Nationals gunned down Torres attempting to stretch his hit into a double.
That loomed significant two innings later, when the Mets rallied for a second straight night against interim closer Tyler Clippard. But despite solo homers from Wright and Jason Bay, the Mets could not complete their comeback.
Their initial deficit, modest though it was, proved just too significant. As has become his custom, Young waited until the middle innings to crack, serving up Adam LaRoche's two-run homer in the sixth. Before that, Young used two double plays to hold the Nats scoreless over the first five innings.
For Young, who relies on deception, breaking pitches and mid-80s fastballs, that much is becoming a troubling trend. In seven starts, batters are now hitting .227 off Young the first time through the order, .269 the second time and .372 the third. When facing Young for the third time in a game, opposing hitters have slugged four home runs and three doubles in 43 at-bats.
"Ultimately we lost, and that's all I'm fixated on right now," Young said. "I gave up the pitch that cost us the game, really, and dug us a hole. It's frustrating, because I feel like I can be better."
Earlier Wednesday, sensing trouble within his clubhouse, Collins called a team meeting to reinforce what he had said publicly the night before: that the Mets have reached the breaking point of their season. If change does not happen soon, Collins said, any opportunity for resiliency may pass them by. Pointing fingers and blaming teammates will do nothing to help.
But if the message produced any fire in the Mets, they were unable to translate it into on-field production. Instead, they sunk quietly to their sixth consecutive defeat.
"There's nobody with their head in the sand thinking everything's fine," Bay said. "We know that this is -- probably more so for us than a lot of other teams -- a very crucial time over the next couple weeks."
"There are no saviors," Collins said. "We're going to have to make sure that these guys understand they've got to just continue to battle and battle and battle, and get out of this and go win six in a row."