Mets lead in East down to one-half game with loss vs. Lannan, Nats

WASHINGTON -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel's voice was soft and steady. His words were strong.

Manuel was New York's bench coach in September 2007, so he knows full well what this team went through then, and he was not pleased Monday night by a 7-2 loss to the Washington Nationals that cut the Mets' NL East lead to a half-game over idle Philadelphia.

"We come in and need a game and don't play well," Manuel said. "That can happen, but it shouldn't happen at this time of the year."

Everywhere Manuel looked, he saw bad news, and it added up to his team's third loss in its past four games, eating into what was a 3 1/2-game cushion over the Phillies as recently as Wednesday. New York has 13 games left, Philadelphia has 12.

Manuel saw Nationals rookie John Lannan (9-13) limit the Mets to one hit over seven innings.

He saw the heart of his lineup -- David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado -- combine to go 0-for-11 with four strikeouts.

He saw Wright ground into a bases-loaded double play in the eighth.

He saw Pedro Martinez (5-5) allow four runs in six innings.

He saw reliever Duaner Sanchez turn a 4-1 deficit into a 7-1 deficit by allowing Elijah Dukes' homer in the seventh.

"We didn't hit. We didn't pitch, as well. We didn't relieve. When we were coming back, we hit into a double play," Manuel said. "It was just a lot of different things. It was just a bad game, period, for us, at this stage."

Last season, the Mets led the Phillies by seven games with only 17 to play before a historic collapse ceded the division title and kept New York out of the playoffs altogether.

"You've got to forget about this one and go out and get them tomorrow. There's no panic," Wright said. "We know what's at stake. This is a time where these little bumps in the road -- we've got to keep them to a minimum. We can't allow this to carry over the next couple of games."

Trailing 7-1 Monday, the Mets threatened to make things interesting once Lannan left the game. The rookie left-hander gave up a double in the third to Brian Schneider, who wound up scoring on Jose Reyes' RBI groundout -- and that was it.

It was quite a contrast to Lannan's previous outing, also against the Mets: He allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings.

But this time, based on advice from Nationals starter Odalis Perez, Lannan decided to try throwing more changeups to left-handed hitters.

"That was one of the keys for him tonight," catcher Wil Nieves said. "It looks like a fastball."

Garrett Mock entered for the eighth and immediately gave up Luis Castillo's double, a walk and Reyes' RBI single. Mock was replaced by Mike Hinckley, and Ryan Church greeted him with a single that loaded the bases.

That brought up Wright, he of the 31 homers and 114 RBIs and MVP candidacy. But Hinckley got him to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

"Chased a pitch I probably should have taken," Wright said.

Martinez, meanwhile, looked good in the fifth, setting down the Nationals in order. He looked weary, though, in the sixth, when his pitch count for the night rose above 100 and seven batters came to the plate.

A single, a walk and a groundout put runners at second and third with two outs. That brought up Anderson Hernandez, who was hitting .203 at Triple-A New Orleans when the Mets sent him to the Nationals last month to complete a trade that sent reliever Luis Ayala to New York.

Hernandez bounced a two-run single through the hole on the right side of the infield to put Washington ahead 4-1.

"Huge hit," Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

Martinez's assessment?

"I threw the pitch I wanted to throw. I wanted him to hit it. I got contact," the pitcher said.

"You have to let it go," he added.

The Mets hope to be able to do that with the entire game.

Game notes
Nationals CF Lastings Milledge collected three hits for the second consecutive game. ... Nationals LF Willie Harris robbed Fernando Tatis of a hit by making a diving catch in the second inning.