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Haren, Nats take step back in Wild Card pursuit

With loss to Mets, club falls 7 1/2 games behind Reds in playoff race

WASHINGTON -- Denard Span stood in front of the tape recorders and television cameras Saturday night and faced the grim reality that the Nationals' difficult task is growing tougher by the day.

"Obviously," he said, "we know that we're running out of time."

If the Nationals are going to defy the odds and make the postseason, they cannot afford to play like they did Saturday night in an 11-3 loss to the Mets. They cannot afford to lose their starter in the third inning, or give up 17 hits to a middling lineup.

"Just a terrible game," Span said. "A type of loss like this came at the wrong time. You have losses that, you get blown out a handful of times throughout the year and this is definitely, like I said, just bad timing to lose a game like that tonight."

After winning eight of nine, the Nationals have now dropped two consecutive games. After squandering an opportunity to gain ground in the National League Wild Card race on Friday night, they took a step back Saturday. The D-backs and Reds both won, knocking the Nationals to 7 1/ 2 games out of the final playoff spot.

"We know what we're up against," starter Dan Haren said. "Everyone is pretty down in here right now. We'll go home and get sleep and come back and try to win tomorrow and go from there. There's no use being down about it too long."

The Nationals have worked their way back to the periphery of the playoff race with timely hitting and solid pitching, but they had neither on Saturday night.

Haren, who had been the Nationals' most reliable starter of late, had his worst start of the season, allowing seven earned runs and recording just eight outs. Despite posting quality starts in six of his past eight starts before Saturday, he was booed as he walked off the mound.

"I felt great," Haren said. "Stuff was good. I tell you guys honestly if I had good or bad stuff that day. My stuff was fine. It wasn't that. Balls fell in."

The right-hander has had trouble keeping the ball in the park this season, but he was doomed by singles against the Mets. New York notched nine hits, many of which were soft liners and bloopers, and chased Haren after 2 2/3 innings.

Manager Davey Johnson called the hits "a thousand little paper cuts."

"I don't think they hit the ball that hard, but a lot of hits," he said. "It was like momentum once they started getting these little dink hits."

Haren only gave up one extra-base hit, which started the scoring in the second inning. With two on and two outs, Omar Quintanilla hit a fading line drive to right-center field. Span dove for the ball but it rattled out of his glove, allowing two runners to score.

In the third inning, Haren gave up six singles to the seven batters that he faced, resulting in five runs.

"It just seemed like everything happened so fast," Span said. "I don't really think [Haren] was pitching as bad as it looked. They got some lucky hits, and before you know it, you look up and it's 6-0."

Shortstop Ian Desmond gave the Mets a little more credit.

"To be honest with you, if I get two blooper hits, I don't really care," he said. "I'm not taking anything away from the way Dan pitched, because he made good pitches. But that's part of hitting -- being able to be in position long enough and good enough to be able to produce a hit like that."

The Nationals also notched double-digit hits, but their hits didn't turn into many runs. Jayson Werth scored one run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the sixth. Desmond plated another with a broken-bat single. Span, who went 3-for-5 and extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games, drove in the third run on a groundout in the ninth.

Mets starter Zack Wheeler limited Washington to five hits over 6 2/3 innings.

"You give a young guy, who in a tight game may have to deal with some nerves, you give him an eight-run lead and that kind of goes out the window," Desmond said.

With their place in the standings and the last month of the season ahead, the Nationals know that they have little room for error. They have to sweep teams like the Mets to have any chance of playing in October. Those circumstances made Saturday's loss sting that much more.

"To lose the first two, definitely tough, but you've got to just turn the page and try to win tomorrow," Span said. "That's it. That's where we are right now."

Tom Schad is an associate reporter for
Read More: Washington Nationals, Dan Haren, Ian Desmond, Denard Span