WASHINGTON -- Less than two hours before Saturday's scheduled first pitch, the Mets found out for certain that Jason Marquis, the Nationals' scheduled starting pitcher, had been traded to the D-backs. They were prepared for this but uncertain it would happen, prompting them to hurriedly pore over scouting reports and video of their new opponent, Yunesky Maya. Lucas Duda and Mike Nickeas, who had recently faced Maya in the Minor Leagues, huddled in their clubhouse and offered advice.
Shortly after Maya finished shutting down their white-hot offense in a 3-0 loss, snapping their five-game winning streak, the Mets did not blame their hurried preparations. Instead, they credited a pitcher who flustered them.
"Guys were familiar with him, so it was nothing all that new," manager Terry Collins said. "He just pitched very, very good."
So good, in fact, that the Mets did not muster a baserunner until the third inning, did not record a hit until the fourth and did not put a runner in scoring position until the fifth. By the time they realized that Maya was pounding the strike zone, shedding his reputation as a pitcher who nibbles at the corners, it was too late; the Nationals removed him from the game with two outs in the sixth.
"He came out attacking guys, and I don't think we were ready for that," left fielder Jason Bay said. "By the time we adjusted, they got him out of there."
Despite the best efforts of David Wright, who finished 2-for-3 for his seventh consecutive multihit game, it was not until the ninth inning that the Mets sustained a threatening rally, loading the bases with two outs against Nationals closer Drew Storen. But Storen froze pinch-hitter Willie Harris on an 85-mph slider at the knees to end the game.
"Everybody knows that guy's filthy," said Harris, who was teammates with Storen last year before joining the Mets. "He was good, man. The strike-three pitch was a straight up pitcher's pitch."
Mets starter R.A. Dickey lost his ninth game of the season, despite making precious few mistakes. After giving up a leadoff hit to Rick Ankiel in the first inning and walking Michael Morse with one out, Dickey threw a flat knuckleball that Jayson Werth crushed for a three-run homer.
It was the game's only run-scoring play. It was enough.
"If they throw a good one, chances are you're not going to hit it," Werth said of the knuckleball. "If they throw the one that doesn't do a whole lot, you have a pretty good chance of hitting it. It's just a matter of getting the one you can hit."
Dickey made just one other obvious mistake, serving up Morse's towering double in the sixth inning that nicked the top of the center-field wall. But neither Morse nor any other Nats batter scored after that first-inning rally.
Such has been the lack of luck this season for Dickey, who has battled through injuries to post a 3.02 ERA over his last 14 starts -- but is merely 4-4 over that stretch.
"There's no question R.A. has deserved to win more games than he has," Collins said.
"It's frustrating, but it's more than that," Dickey said. "I expect more when I look at my name and see that stat line by it. I just do. And so it's painful to look down there and know that you haven't contributed to more wins."
Dickey also noted that on many nights, three runs in six innings is "good enough." It was not good enough on this humid Washington night solely because of Maya, a pitcher the Mets faced due to Trade Deadline dealings.
The silver lining for the Mets, of course, was that they were not the ones doing the trading. Already having dished closer Francisco Rodriguez off to the Brewers and right fielder Carlos Beltran to the Giants, the Mets remain somewhat anxious regarding the status of several other players; it did not help that general manager Sandy Alderson canceled his trip to Washington at the last minute to spend more time at his office in Flushing.
It does remain unlikely that the Mets will swing another deal this weekend, and the players know it. But they won't be able to truly exhale until Sunday's 4 p.m. Deadline comes and goes.
By that time, the Mets hope, they will have started a new winning streak against a more easily identifiable opponent.
"I think we were prepared," Bay said of the team's scouting of Maya. "I think he just pitched a pretty good game."