NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes dropped his shoulder, looking for an outside pitch, realizing too late that Sammy Solis' offering was buzzing toward the inner half of the plate instead. Reyes was committed. He took a half swing at the 93-mph fastball as his momentum carried him a full step back toward the dugout, where Reyes lugged with him the Mets' best chance to come from behind Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the Nationals.
"I'm kind of lost a little bit right now," said Reyes, whose sixth-inning strikeout stranded two of the 11 runners the Mets left on base on Tuesday. "I have to be better than that in that situation."
The setup was precisely what the Mets desired: runners at the corners, one out in a one-run game at Citi Field. This was their chance to break through against the Nationals, to wash away the residue of a particularly stinging loss on Monday, to prevent one defeat from becoming something more.
Solis fell behind in the count, 2-1, and Reyes, Mets manager Mickey Callaway's choice to bring home the tying run, swung wildly through the next pitch. The next offering came in near the bottom of the zone, and Reyes half-swung in a defensive manner, missing it completely. As he walked back to the bench, Reyes carried an 0-for-17 mark on the season, which the 16-year veteran attributed to an unfamiliarity pinch-hitting in games.
"You see the result," Reyes said. "This is my first time going through this in my long career. I used to play every single day, so I need to adjust to my new role. I'm going to figure it out. I know it's not easy for me, but I'll find a way."
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Reyes' at-bat was far from the Mets' only opportunity; although Nationals starter Giovany Gonzalez was his usual sturdy self at Citi Field, improving to 11-1 with 1.78 ERA in 16 career starts at his home away from home, Zack Wheeler allowed just three runs in six innings to keep the Mets in striking distance. They were trailing by merely a run when Juan Lagares and Tomas Nido singled with one out in the sixth, bringing up Wheeler's spot in the order.
With Gonzalez on the mound and another lefty, Solis, warm in the bullpen, Callaway could either turn to the switch-hitting Reyes, whose 0-for-16 slump included just three strikeouts, or tap one of his lefties on the bench: Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto or Adrian Gonzalez. Callaway opted for Reyes, and the Nationals called on Solis, who struck Reyes out on five pitches. The next batter, Amed Rosario, fouled out to end the inning.
"He was a good matchup," Callaway said of Reyes. "He's our switch-hitter off the bench, the only righty we had going against a lefty. I had confidence in Reyes in that spot."
Callaway also had confidence in Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, who struck out in succession after the Mets again put runners on the corners with one out in the seventh, this time in a two-run game. In sum, the Mets finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
The Nationals, meanwhile, kept tacking on runs, taking advantage of their ability to thieve at will against New York's pitchers and catchers. Stolen bases in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings led to runs, allowing the Nats to move back to .500 and within four games of their first-place hosts.
"So we didn't win the series," Frazier said. "We won five series before that. We've just got to keep thinking about the positives that come out of everything. No need to panic. Twelve and four is a really good record."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leadoff walks rarely end well for pitchers. Leadoff walks to Trea Turner, even less so. When Turner drew one off Robert Gsellman in the seventh inning, he almost immediately stole second base, just as Moises Sierra did in the fourth and Michael A. Taylor in the eighth. That allowed Turner to race home with an insurance run on Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single. The Mets have allowed 21 steals in 22 attempts this season, by far the most in the Majors. Their only caught-stealing came on a pickoff play.
"They've got a pretty good, fast team," Wheeler said. "You try to just mix it up, give your catchers a chance because you know they're going. There's no hiding that."
Wheeler finished 2-for-2 at the plate, increasing the pitching staff's batting average to .233 -- a higher mark than that of the Mets' catchers, first basemen, shortstops and left fielders. Of the team's rotation members, only Steven Matz has yet to record a hit.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Nationals had a chance to do some early damage against Wheeler after Turner doubled to lead off the game and Bryce Harper and Zimmerman drew one-out walks to load the bases. The next batter, Sierra, hit a 59.6-mph ground ball that forced Rosario to charge aggressively in from shortstop. In one motion, Rosario fielded the ball and flipped to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who made a quick turn to complete the inning-ending double play.
HE SAID IT
"That's just the reality of the situation. I think it's because fans here in New York City are very passionate about their sports. That's what makes this the best sports city in the world. If we have to deal with that to be in the best place in the world, we will. It makes it fun, actually." -- Callaway, on the criticisms he has faced this homestand
Fresh off his first win of the season, Matz will look to make it two in a row when he starts the Mets' 7:10 p.m. ET series finale against the Nationals at Citi Field. In Washington earlier this month, Matz held the Nats to a single unearned run in five innings.