NEW YORK -- HHH attacked Shea Stadium and its environs Tuesday. Hazy, hot and humid sat in the Mets' dugout and followed them onto the field, sapping their energy at every turn. And then the Mets lost in extra innings, negating a gallant comeback and suffering emotional whiplash. Add an H: hazy, hot, humid and a horrible way to lose.

They'll play more challenging opponents and more exasperating games before this summer is over. But at this juncture, with six games remaining until the midpoint of the Mets' season, the loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday night feels as uncomfortable as any of the 32 that preceded it and worse than most of them.

The Mets were gallant, all right. But there is a school of thought that says losing, 3-2, in nine innings, as they might have if not for their resolve, would have been preferable to losing, 5-3, in 11 as they did. As manager Davey Johnson said after enduring a similar-scenario defeat 20 years ago, "You don't get extra credit if you play extra innings unless you win."

But extra fatigue is part of the equation.

The Mets trudged out of their clubhouse Tuesday night as if their civies were fatigues.

The weather had worn on both teams. But the loss wore on them because of how it happened. A ninth-inning rally that put them in extra innings for the second straight night ultimately did nothing but postpone disappointment and defeat. They were beaten when rookie Brendan Ryan completed the night of his life with his first big-league home run, against Scott Schoeneweis.

The Mets' first loss in five games against the Cardinals this season, ended their winning streak at four games and reduced their lead in the National League East at 2 1/2 games over the second-place Phillies. And, in the words of Paul Lo Duca, "it just ticked us off. We should have won this one."

They trailed, 3-1, when they came to bat in the eighth after Ryan had scored the Cardinals' second run, in the seventh, and driven in their third in the eighth. But Lo Duca hit his fourth home run against Russ Springer in the eighth, and the Mets scored against Jason Isringhausen in the ninth on a two-out walk to Monday night hero Shawn Green and a double by Jose Valentin.

Even when they couldn't score Valentin from third, they liked their chances because they like extra innings.

"When we go extra, we think, 'When are we going to win it?'" Aaron Heilman said, "not 'Are we going to win?'"

Green's gamer in the 11th Monday put the Mets' record in extra innings at 4-2 and their record in one-run games at 10-4.

"We're comfortable late and comfortable close," Heilman said. "With our bullpen and our lineup, the more innings we play, the more you have to like your chances."

The Mets' bullpen threw enough scoreless innings Monday night -- five -- to allow the offense to get out of its own way. It couldn't provide the same kind of opportunity Tuesday. Heilman replaced starter Oliver Perez in the seventh and, for the first time this season, allowed an inherited runner to score. He allowed another run in the eighth, giving up four hits in a seven-batter sequence in parts of two innings.

The run in the seventh might have been avoided. With two out and runners on first and third, Mets nemesis Scott Spiezio hit a hot line drive that ricocheted off Heilman's glove and toward Valentin. The Mets second baseman had a play -- he called it "do or die" -- that he didn't make. He rushed, the ball bounced away, and Ryan scored.

Valentin had a chance to deny the second run in the 11th as well. Again, he rushed and again the ball bounced off his glove. This one was scored an error. This one he identified, with a Freudian slip of the tongue as "a do-and die play."

But the game already was in the Cardinals' favor by that point. Ryan, Schoeneweis' first batter, hit a 3-2 pitch into the visitors' bullpen. The fifth home run allowed by the Mets reliever in what now is 27 2/3 innings, was the first of Ryan's big-league career and seventh in his professional career.

Schoeneweis (0-2) stood by his locker afterwards poised to answer questions.

"That's how it's going," he said. "My mom could be up right now and hit a home run."

He and Heilman had given it up, but it was the offense that lacked the most. The Mets who had three hits in 11 innings Monday, had three in the first seven innings Tuesday. They finished with six. Nine hits and five runs in 22 innings doesn't cut it. But it would have sufficed, had they won.

Certain things can be accomplished in losing. David Wright pointed out that the ninth inning might have drained Isringhausen, who threw 34 pitches. And, clinging to the hope that Carlos Delgado sometime may hit again, Wright pointed out the 11th inning afforded the slump-ridden first baseman a chance for the hard double he pulled. And the Mets had demonstrated a degree of resolve.

But winning would have been more beneficial -- nine innings, 11 innings, 20 innings.

"That," Lo Duca said, "is why we're here."