WASHINGTON -- The mantra around the Mets' clubhouse is to play hard for 27 outs.
Despite trailing the Nationals by a run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, catcher Josh Thole singled to left field to give the Mets some hope. Pinch-runner Chin-lung Hu then stole second base, and the Mets began thinking about a second straight ninth-inning rally.
However, Wille Harris struck out swinging to end the game, and the Mets took a 4-3 defeat that spelled the end of their six-game winning streak.
The Mets still won the series by winning the first two games, and they now head to Philadelphia for three games. Mets manager Terry Collins is hoping his team will start another streak against the first-place Phillies.
"They realize they have to play the whole game ... and battle throughout the nine innings," Collins said. "We did it today. We had the tying run on base in the ninth inning, and we kept plugging away and plugging away. We had some chances tonight. And when you're playing good and on a streak, you're expecting some balls to drop in. But it didn't happen tonight."
New York averaged 6.5 runs per game over its winning streak, but its hitters struggled against Nationals starter Livan Hernandez, who allowed three runs, two earned, on seven hits with five strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. Hernandez, who has more starts against the Mets than any other club with 37, kept the Mets off-balance with his sinker and curve to improve to 3-2.
"It hurts to lose this game," Harris said. "They had the lead the entire game, but the entire time we had a chance. I wish I could have got the hit to tie the game up, but it didn't happen.
"[Hernandez] just looks like he's out there having fun. He goes in-and-out, up-and-down with every pitch. He wasn't overpowering, but he was very consistent moving the ball around to keep us off balance."
Mets starter Chris Capuano lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts and no walks on 96 pitches. Capuano, who took the loss, is now 2-2 on the season with a 6.04 ERA.
Mets first baseman Ike Davis singled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 10 games. Thole, who entered the game with just four hits in his past 26 plate appearances, tied a season high with three hits. But the Mets were just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
Washington took a 1-0 lead on Jayson Werth's ground-rule double in the third. The Mets answered in the fourth when Jose Reyes led off with a double and later scored on a fielder's choice by David Wright.
Capuano began to labor in the fourth, when he faced eight batters and allowed two runs on four hits. Ian Desmond did the most damage, hitting a one-out triple and scoring on a single by Jerry Hairston Jr. Hernandez helped his own cause when his sacrifice bunt scored Hairston to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
"They got some swings, and I made some good pitches where they didn't get the sweet part of the bat on it, but they were able to find holes," Capuano said. "I felt even giving up those three runs in those four innings, we were still right there in the game."
Reyes brought the Mets to within one on a sacrifice fly in the fifth, but Desmond hit his third homer of the season in the bottom half of the inning to give the Nationals a 4-2 lead. Davis hit an RBI double to cut the deficit to 4-3 in the sixth.
Reyes tried to create a spark in the seventh with a two-out single. However, Reyes was thrown out trying to steal second by Nationals catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and the Mets never could close the gap as the Nationals' Drew Storen picked up his fourth save of the season.
"We talk about Reyes. He's at the top of his game," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's really playing good baseball -- aggressive baserunning -- and Pudge made a great throw to get him.
"You've got to tip your hat to the Mets, too. Even after Pudge threw out Reyes, in a huge situation in the ninth, [Hu stole second base]. That was a gutsy call on Terry's part, and Pudge made a nice throw there."
"It's not a good feeling, but we won the series," Reyes said. "We have to feel happy we won two out of three."
Todd Karpovich is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.