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Slumping Mets can't pick up Niese vs. Nats

Lefty allows five early runs; Murphy's drive in ninth caught at the wall

WASHINGTON -- With each passing night, the Mets' offensive onslaught at Yankee Stadium earlier this week seems more and more like a fluke. This team is not built to pound out gaudy run totals on a regular basis. And so when its usually stout starting pitching falters, as it did Friday, trouble nearly always awaits.

Jon Niese was the primary culprit in Friday night's series opener at Nationals Park, giving up five runs in four innings in a 5-2 Mets loss to the Nats. But Niese's defense betrayed him, and New York's offense did precious little to support him.

"I felt pretty good today," said Niese, who snapped a streak of 11 consecutive starts allowing three runs or fewer. "A lot of things just didn't go my way."

The heaviest damage against Niese came in a three-run first inning. After leadoff man Denard Span singled, David Wright booted a potential double-play ball on Anthony Rendon's grounder, allowing everyone to reach base safely. Jayson Werth followed with an RBI single, Wilson Ramos hit a sacrifice fly and Tyler Moore later added an RBI fielder's choice on another-would be double-play ball that Daniel Murphy momentarily bobbled.

"I'm not sure what happened," manager Terry Collins said. "[Niese] certainly wasn't in a very good rhythm when the game started, I didn't think. We know Jon Niese is a guy, that if things don't go good, he's one of those guys who will step up and put an end to it."

"We kind of put him into trouble," Murphy said.

Niese did what he could to limit the damage, but two innings later, the Nationals added runs on Scott Hairston's RBI double and Moore's run-scoring single. And that was that. The Mets, who careened back to earth immediately after scoring 21 games in two nights this week at Yankee Stadium, simply could not match that sort of offensive output.

It was all they could do to plate any runs at all, snapping a 22-inning scoreless streak on Ruben Tejada's RBI groundout in the fifth. Later that inning, Eric Young Jr. added an RBI double on a ball that Hairston appeared to have difficulty tracking in left field. But with two runners on base in a three-run game, Wright popped out to end the Mets' most successful rally in three days.

"We looked at some tape of David, and he's really trying to do too much -- there's no question," Collins said. "But you know anytime he's going to break out of it."

If Collins has been applying that same logic to his offense as a whole, he has so far come away disappointed. The Mets brought the potential tying run to the plate again in the seventh inning, but Lucas Duda flied out to end that threat. Then in the ninth, after Nationals closer Rafael Soriano walked a pair of batters with two outs, Murphy pulled a fly ball to the wall, where Werth leaped to catch it and end the game.

"I thought it had a chance," Murphy said. "In my heart of hearts, I knew it was going to be close. It crowded me just a little bit, got in on me just a hair. I knew it was going to be tight. Jayson made a good play on it."

"He hit the ball well, it just was a good play," Ramos said. "That was a good catch for Jayson."

Threatening to score, of course, is not nearly the same as scoring, so the more the Mets struggle, the more they search for inventive ways to produce runs -- be it swinging at 3-0 pitches, growing aggressive in their approaches or fiddling with their lineup. Collins has taken a fair bit of heat in recent days for benching Juan Lagares, justifying the move by citing his club's overall lack of offense.

Not counting this week's trip to Yankee Stadium, which temporarily transformed them into Home Run Derby participants, the Mets have averaged 2.2 runs per game since May 4. So pardon them for collectively craning their necks in the ninth, when Murphy's ball offered the fleeting promise of an offensive spark.

"I thought that was a homer when he hit it," Collins said. "I thought it was farther than that. Obviously on the replay, it was right next to the fence, but I thought he hit it better than that."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
Read More: New York Mets, Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Eric Young Jr.