NEW YORK -- Prior to Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Nationals, Mets manager Terry Collins and his coaches held a brainstorming session in the bowels of Citi Field. Item one on the agenda was how best to help R.A. Dickey win his 19th game.
A consensus was reached and Collins tweaked his lineup accordingly, replacing regular left fielder Lucas Duda with the more defensive-minded Jason Bay. It did not matter. A stagnant offense remained stagnant and Dickey gave up a crushing two-run homer to pinch-hitter Tyler Moore in the seventh inning to suffer his fifth loss of the season.
"At this point in the season, you want to give the fans something," said Dickey, who became the first Mets pitcher to throw at least 200 innings in consecutive seasons since Tom Glavine in 2004-05. "We've got a shot at doing something maybe, and I certainly don't think about [winning 20 games] every day -- but that's Terry. He wants to give the fans something to root for."
Ahead by a run and -- with a manageable pitch count -- in line for his 19th victory, Dickey retired the first batter of the seventh before giving up a one-out single to Kurt Suzuki. Nats manager Davey Johnson then turned to Moore, who swatted the first knuckleball he saw over the left-field wall for a game-changing two-run homer.
Entering the day atop the short list of National League Cy Young Award candidates, Dickey did not appear sharp early. He gave up consecutive hits to the first two batters of the game, then a sacrifice fly to Ryan Zimmerman for Washington's first run.
Though Dickey settled down from there, he never seemed to find a comfort zone. The knuckleballer walked three batters, struck out two and retired the side in order just once.
The result was his fifth loss in 29 starts, though those numbers are somewhat misleading. Since jumping out to a 13-1 start, Dickey has gone 5-4.
"He's a battler, there's no question," Collins said. "He had to battle through some situations with leadoff hitters, first two leadoff guys on base, had to really get out of it, and he did. He continues to battle, he continues to make the pitches he needs to make with the knuckleball."
Dickey certainly pitched well enough to win on Tuesday; it was the offense that did not back him. The Mets could not score in the first inning after loading the bases with one out, and were unable to crack Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann until the fifth. Back-to-back RBI hits by Daniel Murphy and David Wright gave the Mets a temporary lead, also spelling the end of Zimmermann's night.
Scott Hairston's pinch-hit solo homer in the ninth cut the deficit to two, but it was not enough, as the Mets set a new franchise record by scoring three or fewer runs for the 12th consecutive home game.
"It's not the worst outing to give up three runs in seven innings against that club," said Dickey, calling the Nationals the toughest lineup he has faced this season. "But at the same time, your margin for error is probably very minute."
Which is why the Mets are doing everything they can to help him.
How Collins alters his strategies to help Dickey over the final three weeks of the season could become an interesting September subplot for the Mets. With Tuesday's lineup switch, Collins showed a willingness to shuffle things in order to aid Dickey, though the manager did not go as far as to let Dickey hit for himself to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. Doing so might have increased the knuckleballer's chance at a win.
As it currently stands, Dickey has four starts remaining, giving him four more opportunities to win two games. With short rest off the table, the only way Collins can bolster Dickey's chances is by putting the most strategic lineups possible behind him.
Some nights, it may work. Others, such as Tuesday, it will not.
In any case, Dickey's fans and teammates -- like his manager -- will be rooting for him.
"There was an energy in the park tonight that was different than the last few nights," Dickey said. "It may or may not have been because I was pitching, but I certainly recognized that."