"They gave us every opportunity to get back in the game," manager Terry Collins said. "In the ninth, we certainly had a lot of opportunities. So yeah, this is a tough one. They gave us a chance to beat them tonight."
The missed chances in the ninth inning might have been the ones that hurt the most. After Travis d'Arnaud homered to cut the Washington lead to one, Matt den Dekker singled to put the tying run on. Juan Lagares, who earlier in the game made a throwing error that helped the Nationals take the lead, got clear orders from the Mets' bench: bunt.
The first attempt went foul. The second went straight up, high enough for closer Rafael Soriano to catch it.
"That's the way it works out," Collins said. "If it's executed and you do it right, it works sometimes. Sometimes you pop it up."
Minutes later, the Mets had two runners in scoring position, but consecutive grounders -- one from pinch-hitter Eric Campbell and one from Curtis Granderson -- ended the game.
Campbell's wound up controversial. den Dekker tried scoring from third on the play, but shortstop Ian Desmond made the throw to catcher Wilson Ramos that beat the runner by plenty. Ramos' left leg was even with the third-base line, and Collins came out to argue. A crew-chief review ruled den Dekker was indeed out.
den Dekker wasn't sure that was the right call.
"The way I hit him, there wasn't really a lane to slide," he said. "I could've tried to go around, but I slide right into him when he had the ball."
Those represented the Mets' final chances, but they certainly weren't the first. The team finished 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight men on base. Three of them came in the seventh, when Wilmer Flores grounded out and Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out with the bases loaded.
"It's real basic stuff. You have to get a good ball you can hit," Collins said. "The one thing young players sometimes do is they get a little anxious and attack early when they don't get the pitch they want."
Early, the game belonged to starters Bartolo Colon and Jordan Zimmermann. The former mostly cruised through the sixth, striking out eight -- four on fastballs looking -- and walking one. Colon needed only 89 pitches to get through his seven innings.
Zimmermann was similarly efficient until his defense dropped the ball -- literally. After Lucas Duda reached with a two-out single in the fourth, d'Arnaud sent a routine fly ball to left field. The ball fell into then out of Kevin Frandsen's glove, allowing a hustling Duda to score from first.
"It was unfortunate play. I just dropped it. It's not being lazy or anything. I just dropped it. That stuff happens," Frandsen said. "It's one of those things you have to live with. But oh well, we came out on top."
They did, following a crucial Mets error in the seventh. Adam LaRoche doubled and Desmond singled to Lagares, but with LaRoche potentially trying to score -- yet definitively holding on at third -- Lagares overthrew the cutoff man, allowing Desmond to move up to second. Two sacrifice flies gave Washington the lead.
Asdrubal Cabrera added a homer off of Jeurys Familia in the eighth that proved to be the difference.
The Mets fell 9 1/2 games back in the division and seven games back of the second NL Wild Card with the loss, making Collins' prediction this week that his club would play meaningful baseball in September increasingly unlucky.
That the Nationals have outscored the Mets, 70-20, over their last 10 games in Queens and are 24-4 at Citi Field since Sept. 12, 2011, doesn't help matters.
"That's how it is," den Dekker said. "You have to capitalize and get the job done. We were battling all game and you tip your cap to them. They played a heck of a game."