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Tough day for bullpen in rare Opening Day loss

NEW YORK -- The day began with general manager Sandy Alderson reiterating a challenge -- not a guarantee, not a prediction, but a challenge -- of 90 wins for the 2014 Mets. As fiery as he's ever been in three-plus years of public speaking on the job, Alderson lectured that his team must "turn a corner."

A sharp corner.

"It needs to be a 90-degree angle," Alderson said.

His team poked its head around that bend on Monday but ultimately ducked back behind in a 9-7 Opening Day loss to the Nationals at Citi Field.

It was a tale of excess. The Mets used seven pitchers and nearly emptied their bench. They struck out 18 times. They wasted a strong starting pitching performance from Dillon Gee. They surrendered leads in the seventh and ninth innings. And they ultimately lost the lead for good on Ian Desmond's sacrifice fly in the 10th.

"We flat out gave it away," third baseman David Wright said. "We're not good enough to just be giving games away like this."

On this patchwork Opening Day roster -- which included one player nursing an 11th-hour injury, another on paternity leave and several others who didn't quite know their status heading into the day -- there was no solitary culprit. Instead, blame jumped from locker to locker in a quiet postgame clubhouse.

There was Jeurys Familia, the pitcher who gave up the lead in the 10th, allowing his first two batters to reach base before Desmond's sac fly. The Mets could have walked Desmond to load the bases with one out but decided to attack him instead.

That strategy backfired, and Anthony Rendon later put the game out of reach with a three-run homer off John Lannan -- ensuring that Wright's two-out, two-run shot in the bottom of the 10th would do nothing more than draw the Mets within two.

Such was the story of the day for the home team, which built multiple leads only to give them away. In the first inning, Andrew Brown -- playing only because injuries to Jon Niese and Chris Young created vacancies on the roster and starting lineup, respectively -- tagged Stephen Strasburg for a three-run homer. But the combined struggles of Gee, Carlos Torres and Scott Rice allowed Washington to tie things in the seventh.

The Mets reclaimed the lead an inning later on Juan Lagares' leadoff homer, only to give it away when Bobby Parnell blew a ninth-inning save chance on two hits and a walk. Then the Nationals went ahead for good in the 10th, giving the game a different sort of right angle than the one Alderson envisioned.

"I don't know if it was emotions or not," said Parnell, who topped out at 95 mph in his return from neck surgery. "We tried hard, and it definitely wasn't our day today. We've got work to do, and we'll get better."

Around the clubhouse, Mets veterans offered similar calming rhetoric, with "We'll get better" and "It's only one of 162" being the popular themes. But Alderson intimated earlier that the time for improvement is all but past. The Mets should be better already, not merely improving on the fly. So the Opening Day loss -- just the Mets' 11th in their last 45 season openers -- came complete with a blunter gut punch than usual.

The Mets are built around starting pitching, and their starting pitcher faltered.

"I let them back in the game," said Gee, who finished with four runs allowed in 6 2/3 innings. "It starts with me."

The Mets left Spring Training confident in their bullpen, but the relief corps struggled as well.

"We've still got a little work to do," Parnell said.

In their defense, the team is still incomplete. The Mets reported to duty on Monday missing starting second baseman Daniel Murphy, who is away on paternity leave, and outfielder Young, who was tending a sore right quad. Several players, including Ike Davis, were battling illness. Following the national anthem, the Mets literally took the field without a first baseman before Davis finally emerged from the dugout about a minute after the rest of his teammates.

The result was an unfinished product that lost to the Nationals, widely regarded as one of the league's best teams. Still, the Mets know they had a prime opportunity to win regardless, and were unable to capitalize.

"You never like to lose Opening Day, but in the last couple of years, we've won Opening Day," manager Terry Collins said. "This is one game out of 162. We've got to remember that."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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