NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes slammed his bat to the ground. Unable to channel enough frustration into that action, he slammed his helmet beside it. Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz promptly ejected him.

So it went for the Mets on Monday, undermined by their offense and unable to mount a consistent attack. Frustration reigned. Rather than start a new winning streak at Citi Field, the Mets fell to the Nationals, 3-2.

Afterward, they vented.

"The only thing people care about is that we lost," starter John Maine said. "That's the bottom line."

They lost, despite clawing back against the Nationals, despite recording a dozen hits, despite three times putting a runner at third base with fewer than two outs. They lost despite Maine's adequate outing, and they lost for the third straight time against one of the National League's perennial bottom-feeders.

Much of their evening could be summed up by the first inning alone. Though the Mets loaded the bases off Washington starter Luis Atilano, Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis all struck out to keep the game scoreless.

Not only did the Mets not stake Maine to an early lead, they did not score until Luis Castillo knocked home Rod Barajas with a single in the seventh.

By the time Angel Pagan homered to make it a one-run game with one out in the ninth, the outcome seemed certain.

The Mets had just endured three and a half hours of frustration. They lost. And they were frazzled.

"It really is, sometimes, a very difficult game," Wright said.

Wright's night provided a glimpse of the Mets at their statistical worst. By striking out in the first, he whiffed in his ninth consecutive at-bat -- a string interrupted by two walks and a sacrifice fly, which do not count as official plate appearances. Though his night took a positive turn when he singled in the sixth to snap an 0-for-10 stretch, the Nationals promptly doubled him off first base on Davis' infield pop.

So it went for the Mets. And so it continues to go.

The Mets left 11 men on base in total -- including three in the first, two in the seventh and two in the eighth. They stranded seven of those men in scoring position.

Strikeouts were the culprit, including key K's by Wright, Davis, Reyes and Gary Matthews Jr. -- Matthews' coming in a pinch-hit appearance with runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh. That, too, has been a problem for the Mets, with Matthews (a .136 average this season), Frank Catalanotto (.160) and Fernando Tatis (.222) all struggling mightily off the bench.

"It's a tough role," was all manager Jerry Manuel could say afterward. But his actions spoke louder than his words. Moments after Catalanotto grounded out in a pinch-hit appearance to open the ninth, the Mets designated him for assignment, replacing him on the roster with Minor League standout Chris Carter.

Perhaps, as Wright said, that move will give the Mets "a shot in the arm." Such is the hope.

"Our pitching's held up [its] end of the bargain," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "And we've got too good of hitters not to be producing. That starts with us -- each individual looking at their swing, looking at [himself] and doing a better job."

The pitching, again, was indeed stellar. Maine went six innings, walking four batters but holding the Nationals to two runs. Hisanori Takahashi fired another scoreless inning, Jenrry Mejia was his usual solid self and, on most other nights, the Mets would have been able to withstand Pedro Feliciano's hiccup in the eighth.

But this was not most other nights. This was a night in which the Mets could not bridge that last 90 feet from third base to home plate.

"That's going to come," Reyes said. "We've had so many chances to score some runs, but we're not able to get that big hit that we need. That's going to happen at some point. Hopefully soon."

"We have good hitters that have a history of hitting," Manuel said. "Hopefully it's a matter of time before we get on track."

If not, the Mets will sink lower in the standings. If so, then they may just have a chance to turn things around.

Monday night, however, was not a time to look toward the future. The Mets could do little but look back and shake their heads.

"It's a loss," Wright said. "So it's tough."