NEW YORK -- The ongoing ineffectiveness of Guillermo Mota undermined the Mets yet again on Wednesday night and contributed to an unrewarding evening at Shea Stadium. The Mets were hardly in position to beat the Padres through six innings, and when Mota surrendered three runs in the seventh, most of the tension was drained from an unremarkable game that the Mets eventually lost.

In the process, the team that has squatter's rights on first place in the National League East was unable to extend a winning streak to five games for the seventh time this season. Such a shortcoming -- a tad arcane, it seems -- also seems quite benign. It's not as though a winning streak of five games is required to do business in October, right?

Anyway, while the Mets were losing, 7-5, to the Padres, the Phillies and Braves also lost. So the Mets emerged from their 125th game still five games ahead of the former, six ahead of the latter and comfortable in their own skin.

But the grand ol' game is rife with arcane and benign trivialities that make no difference, until the day that they do make a difference. And one of them may come to involve these Mets. No team in big league history has qualified for the postseason without winning five straight games at some point in its regular season.

So let the hand-wringing begin. The Mets have merely 33 games remaining to accomplish what they haven't accomplished in 125. Because if they don't put together another four-game winning streak by Sept. 25, they won't have another opportunity to achieve five straight victories.

That challenge hardly was an issue during their Wednesday night postmortems, though Aaron Heilman did note: "I guess it's a good thing they don't have those best-of-nine World Series anymore."

If the Mets had any concern, it was directed at the bullpen and, specifically, at Mota, who continued to hit bats at an alarming rate. Padres ace Jake Peavy shut down the Mets for four innings before allowing them a smidgen of offense. But the Mets were still within striking distance after Peavy exited after the sixth and until Mota, the first line of relief for starter Brian Lawrence, faltered in his second inning.

Peavy eventually earned his 14th victory after striking out 11 and allowing two hits, because the performance of his bullpen was less flawed than that of Mota. The Mets scored three times in the ninth aganst Kevin Cameron and Trevor Hoffman, and they had a runner on second base, when Hoffman struck out Carlos Delgado for his 32nd save. But the late runs only underscored Mota's impact.

Mota had stained this game with his inadequacy, allowing three runs in the seventh on a walk, three hits and a wild pitch.

As manager Willie Randolph said, "We gave away too much in the middle [innings]," i.e, the seventh.

The performance was the latest in a series of deficient appearances by Mota. He has allowed nine runs and 10 hits in his most recent five appearances -- 5 1/3 innings.

This one was a tad unusual, because Mota pitched a clean sixth inning and retired the first two batters in the seventh. The Mets were an out away from facing the Padres' bullpen, needing two runs to tie it, when Mota allowed a soft single to left center by Adrian Gonzalez. A walk to Mike Cameron put Gonzalez on second base, a wild pitch put runners in scoring position and a single by Khalil Greene put the Mets four runs in arrears. A steal of second by Greene and a double to left by Kevin Kouzmanoff gave the Padres a margin for error that withstood the Mets nightly ninth-inning push.

They have scored 70 runs in the ninth inning, the most in the big leagues; they've allowed 20 in the ninth. Mota hasn't seen many ninth innings.

Mota talked about his inability to achieve the third out as if that were the ongoing problem.

"I can't finish the third out," Mota said. "I'm trying to figure it out. My slider's there, my changeup is there, my two-seamer is there." So is his ERA, which has risen in increasingly conspicuous figures -- 4.78 to 5.40 to 5.49 to 5.80 to 5.93 to 6.28.

And he hasn't been so hot with his first batters either, retiring 24 out of 36.

Randolph said that he won't back off using Mota.

"I don't usually lose confidence in my guys," Randolph said. "He has to get it done. He has to find a way."

Despite Mota's role in it, the loss was properly charged to Lawrence, who has yet to distinguish himself in four starts with the Mets. He allowed runs in three innings and never pitched a clean inning, taking his first loss. Greene drove in a run in the second, Kouzmanoff doubled one home in the fourth and the Padres scored twice in the fifth, Lawrence's final inning, with Gonzalez and Cameron driving in runs and Delgado committing an error at first base.

Carlos Beltran, who drove in the first five of the Mets' seven runs on Tuesday night, drove in the first two on Wednesday, delivering a double over the head of center fielder Cameron with two outs in the fifth inning. Jose Reyes had led off the inning with the Mets' first hit, a sharp single to left. After Peavy retired Luis Castillo, David Wright worked the third of his four walks -- a franchise record -- and he and Reyes executed a double steal. Reyes' steal was his 67th and established a single-season franchise record.

Beltran, who had struck out with the bases loaded in the third, then hit his two-run double. Those runs and the one he drove in in the ninth put his RBI total at 21 for his past 10 starts.

The runs the Mets scored in the ninth inning extended their streak of consecutive games of scoring at least five runs to 10 games, a club record. Five runs can be enough. But the hole was too deep.

"You can't come back every night," Randolph said.