NEW YORK -- Six runs in the ninth inning meant little to the Mets. The only numbers to take solace in were the ones on the out-of-town scoreboard.
An improbable rally fell just short when Paul Lo Duca flied out with a runner on third, and New York's 10-9 loss to the scrappy Washington Nationals cost the NL East leaders another chance to expand their cushion.
With his team in dire need of a strong pitching performance, Tom Glavine was hit hard and the Mets dropped their fifth straight home game. They got help elsewhere, though.
New York's magic number was trimmed to four for clinching its second consecutive division title when Philadelphia lost 10-6 to Atlanta. The Mets remained two games ahead of the Phillies with five to play.
"We can't rely on the Braves, on the Phillies losing. We have got to go out there and snatch this thing," David Wright said.
Looking sluggish yet again, New York trailed 10-3 in the ninth before a stirring comeback. Lo Duca singled, Carlos Gomez drew a one-out walk and Jose Reyes hit a three-run shot off Jesus Colome for his second homer of the game.
Luis Castillo's single chased Colome and brought on Chad Cordero. Wright singled and Carlos Beltran's walk loaded the bases for streaking Moises Alou, who smacked a three-run double for his fourth hit.
That's when first-year Nationals manager Manny Acta made an unorthodox and gutsy move. He pulled his closer for setup man Jon Rauch, and it paid off.
"He did not have it. He didn't command his fastball. It's a team game. I gave him some rope, but then you've got to think of the team," said Acta, the Mets' third base coach the previous two seasons.
Many in the crowd of 49,244 had left by the ninth. Shea Stadium got pretty noisy, though -- until Rauch quieted everybody by closing it out for his fourth save.
"It doesn't mean a thing. I don't care if you lose by eight runs or one, it's still a loss," Lo Duca said. "We've got to fix it. We've got to fix it quick."
The Mets almost pulled off their biggest ninth-inning rally for a victory. On July 17, 1973, they overcame a 7-1 deficit by scoring seven times in the ninth to beat Atlanta, the Elias Sports Bureau said.
The Mets fell to 1-4 over the past nine days against fourth-place Washington, embracing its role as spoiler. New York has allowed 48 runs in those five meetings with the Nationals, who began the day with the fewest runs in the majors.
"We want to stir things up and make it hard for everybody," Rauch said.
Glavine (13-7) was supposed to steady the ship during a key outing sandwiched between two Mets rookie starters - Mike Pelfrey was ineffective in Monday's 13-4 loss, and Philip Humber makes his first major league start Wednesday night.
"It's a big game regardless of what tomorrow's situation may or may not be. But you can't worry about that," Glavine said. "I struggled with my rhythm, my tempo. I kind of felt like I was fighting myself a lot."
Mets owner Fred Wilpon met with manager Willie Randolph and GM Omar Minaya before the game and was supportive, Minaya said. But the Mets were already down by four when they came to bat for the first time and Reyes hit a leadoff homer off the scoreboard in right-center.
Shawn Green later got his 2,000th hit and Alou extended his team-record hitting streak to 29 games.
"They feel it. They want it," Randolph said. "But we let some runs score late in the game. Those add-on runs came back to hurt us."
Jason Bergmann (6-5) held the Mets in check for 5 2/3 innings and singled twice on his 26th birthday, improving to 5-0 since a loss at Pittsburgh on June 30. He is 4-0 in his past five starts.
New York grounded into four inning-ending double plays.
The Mets, who have lost eight of 12, had a great chance to get back in the game in the fifth. Pinch-hitter Ruben Gotay cut it to 6-3 with an RBI double, and Castillo's single put runners at the corners for Wright.
The MVP hopeful hit a sharp grounder toward third, but childhood buddy Ryan Zimmerman made a fine backhand stab to start a splendid double play that ended the inning.
"I don't believe in psychological wins or momentum swings. But it's good to see the guys fight back," Wright said.
Kearns hit his second three-run drive in two games. Five of his 16 homers have come against the Mets.
- The Nationals (71-87) equaled their win total from last year. "I told my guys I'm proud of them," Acta said. "We want to finish fourth."
- Reyes' 10th career leadoff homer extended his club record. It was his fourth multihomer game and first at Shea Stadium.