NEW YORK -- David Wright had the chance to tie the game in the eighth inning with two out and Kirk Nieuwenhuis on third, but he couldn't push across the run that mattered in the Mets' 5-4 loss to the Cardinals on Monday.
Wright worked a nine-pitch at-bat against Cardinals reliever Jason Motte, but eventually lined out to right fielder Carlos Beltran to end the rally.
Dillon Gee continued the recent string of strong pitching from the Mets' rotation, but the bullpen let the game slip away late.
Gee followed dazzling performances from Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese in the first three games of the series with his third straight quality start. Gee went seven innings, allowing three runs -- two earned -- and striking out eight.
"It obviously wasn't a no-hitter or a complete-game shutout, but I felt really good today," Gee said. "I had a pretty good stretch last year at the beginning of the year, but I think I feel better right now than I did at that point last year. The ball is coming out of my hand great. My arm feels great. I'm locating, and I'm throwing my pitches for strikes."
Gee's effort wouldn't be enough, however, as Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig capped his busy day with an eighth-inning two-run homer off Jon Rauch, who has allowed six runs in his last 10 appearances.
"I was trying to just drive the ball and the pitch was a little up," Craig said. "I was trying to stay simple and got a really good pitch to hit."
After warming up, Rauch experienced some right elbow tenderness. Manager Terry Collins said the injury is something that "pops up once in a while" with his right-handed reliever. Rauch, who took the loss in giving up two runs on two hits in two-thirds of an inning, was taken to the hospital after the game to have his elbow examined.
"I think right now we're going to have it checked," Collins said. "We're going to have the doctor look at him a little bit. But once again, he's been pitching well enough. Today he just got the fastball up on the wrong guy."
The home run by Craig spoiled pinch-hitter Scott Hairston's two-run drive to left field that tied the game at 3 in the top half of the inning. Wright scored on the homer for his 735th career run as a Met, tying him with Jose Reyes for the franchise lead. Hairston now has five pinch-hit home runs in his Mets career, tied for fourth most in team history.
With his home run against left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, Hairston has gone deep in four of his last five games. He is hitting .339 with five home runs and 14 RBIs against left-handers this season.
"He's done outstanding. These guys, their preparation is incredible," Collins said. "Last year, Scottie got off to a little bit of a slow start and then got hot, and this year he's kind of watched his workload during the game, but he goes up there and he's been staying aggressive, and right now he's seeing the ball very, very well. Huge at-bat, great at-bat for us to get us right back in it."
The Cards got on the board first, scoring in the fourth inning on Craig's RBI single that drove in Matt Holliday from second.
The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the fourth inning on Lucas Duda's upper-deck homer to right field. Duda has been working on his timing with batting coach Dave Hudgens, and the home run was Duda's fifth in his last 10 games.
"Right now he's getting his feet down and getting his feet in good position," Collins said. "He's getting the bat out front, so he should get some balls to drive."
Following a leadoff walk to Craig in the seventh, third baseman David Freese hit a single that started the bulk of the damage against Gee. With runners on first and third, Daniel Descalso hit a comebacker to the mound, but Gee's errant throw to second allowed Craig to score.
"On the way to the ball, I was a little indecisive. I didn't know exactly what I should do there," Gee said. "On the way to the ball, I looked at third base, and he was going on the way back to the bag. As I picked it up, I just said, 'Let's try to get the lead runner at second to try to keep it at one run at least,' and I just made a bad throw. I kind of beat myself there."
With one out in the seventh, Wright made a diving stop on Rafael Furcal's ground ball, throwing the ball to second for a force out, but the play was broken up there, denying the Mets a double-play opportunity and allowing Freese to score.
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse held the Mets' surging offense in check, allowing one run and just two hits in the first six innings after New York put up 19 runs in the first three games of the series.
Despite the loss, the Mets finished their homestand with a 7-4 record, and moved to within an arms reach of first place in the National League East. New York is now one-half game out of the first, and it plays Washington, which has a share of the top spot, in the next series.
"It was a great series. It was a great team that we were playing. We knew that coming in," Hairston said. "Our pitchers did a great job. It was just incredible that we've had that great of success with their efforts. We are fortunate we were able to take the first three games of the series."
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.