WHAT IT MEANS: Face it: The New York Mets didn't deserve to take first place Tuesday night.
Three different relievers -- Frank Francisco, Bobby Parnell and Elvin Ramirez -- failed to close out leads and the Mets suffered an all-time ugly defeat, 7-6 in 12 innings to the Washington Nationals.
Ramirez, in his second major league appearance, could not protect a one-run lead in his second inning of relief and instead suffered his first big league loss. After walking opposing pitcher Ross Detwiler with first base open to load the bases in the 12th, 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper finished off the Amazin's with a two-out RBI single. Ramirez had walked only one batter in 14 2/3 scoreless innings with Triple-A Buffalo before his promotion.
A Mets win would have moved them into sole possession of first place, the first time they would have been atop the standings at this late a date since Sept. 19, 2008.
Earlier in the game, David Wright established a franchise record for runs scored in a Mets uniform, although that’s zero consolation.
Scott Hairston’s 12th-inning homer against Detwiler had staked the Mets to a 6-5 lead and looked as though it would help the Mets overcome atrocious fielding.
Ramirez was thrust in the role because the Mets were playing short two men in the bullpen.
Jon Rauch was active but in New York because of debris in his elbow. And the Mets were down a reliever anyway because they’re using a six-man rotation this turn to ensure Johan Santana gets two days of extra rest and R.A. Dickey doesn’t have to pitch early.
UGGGGLY: Jordany Valdespin committed two errors in the 10th inning while manning shortstop, the second of which allowed the tying run to score and dealt Parnell a blown save. Ike Davis also fumbled a grounder and failed to initiate a double play and Parnell uncorked a wild pitch during that ignominious frame.
In the top half of the 10th, Hairston singled, swiped second and eventually scored for a 5-4 lead with one out on a wild pitch by Henry Rodriguez with Wright batting. (Why Davey Johnson was even pitching to Wright is a question, since the pitcher’s spot was up next. Terry Collins likely would have been forced to use Mike Nickeas as a pinch-hitter if Wright had been intentionally walked with first base open to set up the double play.)
New York Mets
THE BRIGHT SPOT: Although he departed trailing by three runs, Chris Young’s first major league action since May 1, 2011 indisputably was a success. Returning from the same surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder that Santana underwent eight months earlier, Young retired the first six Nationals batters he faced, until Danny Espinosa opened the bottom of the third with a bunt single.
The Mets -- who entered the night a half-game behind first-place Washington and Miami -- actually rallied to take a late, 4-3 lead on solo homers by Valdespin and Wright and a two-run double by Andres Torres. But Francisco, asked to produce a five-out save for the second time in his career, could not get through the eighth inning with that lead intact.
FRANK TALK: The Mets held a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth, when Collins summoned Tim Byrdak to face righty-hitting Ryan Zimmerman to open the half-inning. Byrdak surrendered a single to Zimmerman, bringing up lefty-hitting Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche hit an apparent double-play grounder, but second baseman Daniel Murphy fumbled it and had to settle for only the out at first base. Zimmerman ultimately scored to make it 4-all when Desmond produced a two-out single.
Francisco's only five-out save remains April 21, 2009 with Texas.
MORE YOUNG: Working on standard rest -- which he had not done in any of his four minor league starts -- Young was charged with three runs (two earned) on six hits while striking out two and walking one in a 75-pitch effort (52 strikes).
In the fifth, Zimmerman delivered a two-out RBI single to make it 2-0.
On the play, Zimmerman rounded first base aggressively and got caught in a rundown. Steve Lombardozzi, who intended to stop at third base, noticed Zimmerman caught and sprinted for home. Shortstop Omar Quintanilla then halted his pursuit of Zimmerman and fired toward the plate. But Quintanilla overthrew Josh Thole and the Nats had a third run.
WHAT A RUN: Wright’s homer in the sixth against Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann not only pulled the Mets within 3-2, it also was the 736th run scored of Wright’s career. That gave him sole possession of the franchise record, passing Jose Reyes (735).
New York Mets
THE GOOD (FROM THE GOOD WITH THE BAD): Valdespin got the Mets on the board earlier in the sixth with a homer while pinch-hitting for Young. It was Valdespin’s second career major league homer -- and second pinch-hit homer. Valdespin also hit a tiebreaking three-run homer against Jonathan Papelbon in Philly on May 7.
Valdespin also doubled in the eighth Tuesday. He scored on Torres’ go-ahead double.
PIGGYBACK RIDE: As promised, Miguel Batista piggybacked Young’s outing in the 41-year-old veteran’s return from the DL. Batista logged two no-hit, scoreless innings.
WHAT’S NEXT: After visiting a Bethesda, Md., hospital in their annual Washington-area commitment to lift the spirits of injured military servicemen, the Mets send Jeremy Hefner (1-2, 5.60 ERA) to the mound opposite Nats right-hander Edwin Jackson (1-3, 3.17) on Wednesday. Hefner has not pitched since last Tuesday. He was inserted in the rotation for an extra turn with Santana needing extra rest and with the Mets determined not to use R.A. Dickey on short rest.