WASHINGTON -- On a quiet morning at Nationals Park, with his suitcase packed and his team aching to leave this dreadful road trip in the past, Mets manager Terry Collins was asked if he could stomach anything other than a victory in Thursday's finale.
"A win's got to do it," Collins said after a brief sigh. "That's what we play for and that's what we've got to do."
And so the Mets went about the solemn business of salvaging something -- anything -- out of their worst stretch of the season, riding R.A. Dickey's pitching and David Wright's power to a 9-5 victory over the Nationals.
Far from easy, far from stress-free, the game included many of the same warning signs that have plagued the Mets since the All-Star break. But thanks in large part to Wright's two home runs, it was enough to snap their six-game losing streak.
That, the Mets considered most important of all.
"We probably, as a whole, played pretty sloppy baseball," Dickey said. "We feel good about the win, sure. But we know that it's not going to cut it. We've got to get better."
Homering in three consecutive at-bats dating back to Wednesday, Wright launched a two-run shot off Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez in the first inning, then a three-run blast against reliever Craig Stammen in the fourth. By that point, the Mets had jumped out to an eight-run lead, knocking Gonzalez out of the game in the fourth and providing Dickey with more than enough support.
It was the second time Wright has homered in three straight plate appearances in his career, the first coming back in 2007.
"Nobody matches up that good against David Wright right now," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Though Dickey also gave up a first-inning homer, his to Ryan Zimmerman, the knuckleballer settled down to shake off the vibes of his last two poor starts. Hardly cruising, Dickey scattered 10 hits and allowed three earned runs, but he also struck out five and pitched into the eighth. In doing so, he became the first National League pitcher to reach 13 wins, improving his personal record to 13-1.
"To pitch with a lead is so much easier than when you don't feel like you've got much room to wiggle," Dickey said, noting that he threw more fastballs and fewer knuckleballs than normal because of the early cushion. "It obviously took some pressure off."
After scoring nothing off Nationals starting pitching over the first two games of the series, the Mets jumped on Gonzalez for six early runs, allowing Collins to emit a different type of sigh. Though Wright provided the two biggest blows of the day, Andres Torres and Ruben Tejada set up those rallies by reaching base a combined five times in their first six plate appearances.
Ike Davis also homered in the second inning off Gonzalez. Six of his 14 home runs this season have come against left-handers.
But things grew hairy in the eighth and ninth innings, when four members of New York's 30th-ranked bullpen combined to give up four hits and one run, also hitting a batter and allowing a second inherited run to score. What could have been a laugher turned into something more serious, once again exposing the Mets' greatest flaw -- the primary reason why they lost six straight games to begin with.
The Mets lamented those late struggles afterward, with Wright saying "you'd rather them not be on the bases" and Dickey calling the entire game "sloppy." But to overcome such sloppiness for the first time since the All-Star break, the Mets agreed, was equally significant.
"From here on out, a win is a big win," Wright said. "We've dug ourselves, obviously, into a little bit of a hole."
Now, the Mets head back to Citi Field for six games against the Dodgers and Nationals, certainly in more precarious standing than they were a week ago. It is no longer a given that the Mets will seek bullpen help -- or any help -- in advance of the July 31 Trade Deadline, though that incentive to play well clearly still exists.
Still, Wright and Dickey were both careful not to place too much emphasis on any of the team's upcoming games, knowing that pressure can often breed pressing. And pressing can often breed losing baseball, as it may have done for the first five-sixths of this trip.
"It's obvious that we have not been playing to our capability, and so we lost some games here in a row," Dickey said. "But I don't think anybody has panicked. It was nice to get a win today, but it was no more important than the game yesterday that we didn't win."