WASHINGTON -- What a relief!
The Mets snapped an eighth-inning tie when Damion Easley was hit by Saul Rivera's two-strike pitch with the bases loaded, and they handed a slim lead to a shaky relief corps that has struggled badly without injured closer Billy Wagner.
But this time, Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano each worked a scoreless inning to lock down Santana's elusive 10th win. Feliciano, normally a left-handed specialist, struck out two in a perfect ninth for his third major league save. The other two came last year.
"Feliciano has been very good for us," New York manager Jerry Manuel said. "He hasn't had a lot of glitches in his appearances. I felt very comfortable with him."
Six times this season New York's bullpen has cost Santana (10-7) a potential win -- with five of the collapses coming in the ninth inning. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner left with a 3-1 lead in his previous outing last Thursday, only to have San Diego tie it in the ninth.
The relievers also blew a four-run cushion for Pedro Martinez over the final three innings of Monday's 7-5 loss to Pittsburgh, prompting an exasperated Manuel to suggest he might even think about using his starters out of the bullpen in an attempt to fix the glaring problem.
That led to a couple of Mets starters answering questions before Tuesday's game about the possibility of moving to a relief role and whether they'd be comfortable in the 'pen.
"I took it as something to get us fired up," Smith said. "This team is trying to take off. We are a big part of this."
Santana rebounded from a tough start to toss seven solid innings. The left-hander allowed three runs and eight hits, striking out six and walking two before being lifted for a pinch hitter with the bases loaded in the eighth.
After Austin Kearns opened the bottom half with a single, Smith and Feliciano retired the final six Nationals batters -- four on strikeouts.
"Joe did his job and I did mine," Feliciano said. "It speaks well for the team. Yesterday was a rough day. Today is another day."
David Wright and Carlos Beltran started the New York eighth with consecutive singles, and Fernando Tatis walked to load the bases. Rivera (3-5) then plunked Easley with a 1-2 pitch that umpires ruled hit him on the helmet.
Washington manager Manny Acta argued vehemently that the ball sailed over Easley's head. He got all four umps to discuss the play, but the call stood.
"I just thought the ball hit the bat (at first), but they got it right," Acta said. "It is the human element of the game."
Five of the first eight Nationals batters got hits, but Santana gave up just one run and three hits after that to win his third straight decision.
Carlos Delgado gave the Mets a 2-0 lead with a two-run single in the first. Ryan Zimmerman answered in the bottom half with an RBI single, and Jesus Flores tied it three batters later with a run-scoring double.
The Mets went up 3-2 in the third on Beltran's RBI double, and Santana held it until pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans homered to start the seventh.
"You've got to jump on a guy like that because he's not going to give you too many chances to get him," Langerhans said.
- Washington OF Lastings Milledge, traded by the Mets last offseason, extended his career-best hitting streak to 13 games with a sixth-inning bunt single.
- Langerhans' shot was Washington's sixth pinch-hit homer this season.
- Mets SS Jose Reyes reached 40 stolen bases for the fourth straight year.
- Santana hasn't lost since June 28.