WASHINGTON -- It is not often that the troubling aspects of a four-run victory so convincingly outweigh the good. But so it was Sunday, in a sweltering Fourth of July matinee, when the Mets did not so much win as survive. Their 9-5 victory over the Nationals was, in many ways, as troubling as it was necessary.

When it ended nearly four hours after it had begun, after Francisco Rodriguez finished off a game that he never should have entered, the Mets felt as if they had spent a month on the road. As it was, they spent a week, salvaging a 3-4 road trip and a split at Nationals Park.

And they'll take it.

"It could have been better," third baseman David Wright said. "And I guess it could have been worse."

Rodriguez ensured that it would not be, recording the final three outs of a save situation that Bobby Parnell created. Correcting a mechanical flaw that pitching coach Dan Warthen exposed after Saturday's blown save, Rodriguez retired the middle of Washington's order in rather efficient fashion.

"That's the best [thing] that can happen, to give me the opportunity the next day to go out there and shut the door," said Rodriguez, who called Saturday's outing the worst of his life. "Especially after that embarrassing performance that I had yesterday."

There was nothing embarrassing early for the Mets, who took a quick lead on Jason Bay's two-run triple in the first. After Angel Pagan singled home a run in the second inning, the Mets added two more on Ike Davis' homer in the third, two on Bay's double in the fourth and another on Jeff Francoeur's ensuing hit, prompting Nationals starter Craig Stammen to quip: "I wasn't very good. That's the reason we lost."

His words, though, were not as insightful as those of Bay, who noted that, "These guys battle us right to the end every single game."

With an eight-run lead heading into the sixth, the Mets figured the Nationals this time might offer them a holiday reprieve. But no such luck. Hisanori Takahashi, who struck out seven over his first five breezy innings, did not retire a batter in the sixth. After Ryan Zimmerman energized the Nationals with a three-run home homer, they chased Takahashi on Adam Dunn's single.

Then the game stalled.

Without a single trustworthy arm in his bullpen, Mets manager Jerry Manuel called upon Elmer Dessens, Pedro Feliciano, Ryota Igarashi and Bobby Parnell. And in turn, each of them fell into varying degrees of trouble.

Dessens, for example, loaded the bases with no outs on a single and a hit batsman, before serving up a potential bases-clearing line drive to Adam Kennedy that landed mere feet foul. But rather than fold, he managed to whiff Kennedy and induce a double play from Wil Nieves, preserving what at the time was still a five-run lead.

Yet the Mets were far from comfortable, and the Nats had little to lose. So the gap continued to close when Feliciano, in the midst of a rare rough patch, allowed Zimmerman's RBI single in the seventh, and then Igarashi served up a run-scoring hit to Nieves in the eighth.

It was not until Rodriguez entered in relief of Parnell, who allowed singles to both batters he faced, that the Mets began feeling somewhat secure.

"We've got to settle that 'pen," Manuel said. "The 'pen has to be settled and has to be clicking."

Right now, it is neither, prompting Manuel to appeal for help. Prior to Monday's game, the manager said, the Mets will almost certainly recall a bullpen arm from Triple-A, considering their current relief corps has become both overused and underwhelming.

The Mets are also likely to push both Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana up in the rotation, thereby skipping Takahashi's final start of the first half and -- they hope -- allowing them to lean less on their bullpen.

"We probably have put ourselves in a situation where we've got to look at the relief situation," Manuel said. "What we actually need is a day off tomorrow. Is it supposed to rain tomorrow?"

It is not. And Manuel was half-joking. But within his comedy was a plea for help.

In a game in which Bay drove in four runs, in which Pagan reached base four times, in which Wright had two hits, two steals and two runs, the Mets still managed to make things interesting.

They won, of course, which was the good news. But this was an exhausting win -- and a disconcerting one, too.

"It was an average road trip for us," Wright said. "We've got to improve on some things and work on some things and really get it going."