Published July 25, 2012
NEW YORK – Terry Collins was fed up. David Wright, embarrassed. Reliever Tim Byrdak and catcher Josh Thole let it all out in an argument in the dugout.
The Mets are in a free fall and the frustration of their stunning slide from the playoff race is taking its toll.
Facing Stephen Strasburg on Wednesday in the finale of a winless homestand did not help. The Nationals' ace struck out 11 in seven dominant innings, Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa hit consecutive homers and Washington finished a sweep of New York with a 5-2 victory.
"Once in a while when things go bad you start making excuses, and I don't deal with excuses. I deal with accountability," Collins said. "I deal with standing up and being a man, standing up and being a professional baseball player and playing the game right."
During the Mets' 11th loss in 12 games that dropped the team four games under .500 at 47-51, Byrdak confronted Thole after allowing a two-run homer to Adam LaRoche in the seventh inning. Brydak didn't know the pitches were being called from the dugout. Pitching coach Dan Warthen had to step in to calm the players down.
"I apologized to Josh," Byrdak said.
"You see what happens when you lose 11 out of 12 games or whatever," Thole said. "It caught me off guard a little bit but that's how it goes."
Ike Davis homered for New York in the finale of an 0-6 homestand, their first winless stretch at home of six games or more since 2002. The six-game skid matches a season high.
The Mets' 1-11 slide after the All-Star break is approaching their record for futility to start the second half. The only team worse in club history was its first. The 1962 Mets won just one of their first 15 games and set the mark for losses with a 40-120 record.
"Losing is one thing. The way that we're going about it right now is unacceptable," Wright said. "I just think that the way we're going about our business right now is not the way we did it in the first half."
The Mets went into the All-Star break 46-40 and optimistic they would compete for one of two NL wild-card spots. But injuries to ace Johan Santana, Dillon Gee and closer Frank Francisco and an offense that has stalled has New York fading fast. The Mets have lost 12 games in a span of 13 for first time since 2004.
They were outscored in the two series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Nationals 36-20, including two meltdowns in extra innings by the bullpen. The relief corps is the worst in the majors and has a 6.02 ERA since the break.
The Mets held just one lead in three games against Washington and even R.A. Dickey's 11-game winning streak came to an end.
"We're going to get through it. You will see a different team in the next 10 days, the next two weeks," Collins said. "We're through making excuses."
The changes began before the Nationals even came to town, when Collins said top prospect Matt Harvey will make his first big league start on Thursday in Arizona — after there was much reluctance from the front office to promote the seventh overall pick in 2010.
The Mets then demoted slumping right fielder Lucas Duda to Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday and, after Wednesday's game, sent down catcher Mike Nickeas to make room for Rob Johnson's callup. Johnson was Matt Harvey's batterymate in Buffalo.
Wright finished a 4-for-24 homestand by grounding out with runners on second and third and the score 5-2. He struck out three times against Strasburg (11-4), tossing all his equipment after the final K.
The Mets' road back to a respectable place in the standings does not get any easier: they're heading out on an 11-game West Coast trip.
For Thole, though, the flight to the desert couldn't come sooner.
"I don't think it can get any worse than this run now," Thole said. "I can't wait to get out of here."
Starting for Santana, Jeremy Hefner (1-4) labored through six innings, but gave the Mets a chance by working out of several jams. He yielded six hits and three runs — two earned — in his fourth big league start. Hefner struck out seven and walked two.
Hefner put runners on in each inning but the fifth. Morse led off the second with an opposite field drive into the lower deck in right. Espinosa then pulled one halfway up the overhanging upper deck in right field to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
Espinosa doubled and scored in the fourth when he broke for home on Sandy Leon's soft grounder to Davis, who fielded the ball on the grass in front of first base. Davis' throw was on the mark but Thole could not hold onto the throw to tag the sliding Espinosa. Thole was given an error and the Nationals led 3-1.
That's all Strasburg needed.
The big righty struck out five in a row and gave up four hits in matching his career best for innings, done seven times.
"That's him, that's the way he should pitch. He was very pitch efficient from the get-go. He went right after guys," Washington manager Davey Johnson said. "He's still learning how to pitch in this league. ... He's still a work in progress."
Tyler Clippard, the Nationals' fifth reliever, pitched a perfect ninth for his 18th save.
NOTES: Francisco (knee) allowed one run and three hits in two-thirds of an inning during a rehabilitation appearance with Double-A Binghamton on Wednesday. ... Collins hopes Santana (ankle) will be able to throw off a mound next week. He said Santana is on track to return to the Mets around Aug. 8 or 9. ... Washington is 9-3 against New York this season.