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09/18/07 1:08 AM ET

Mets look to be in serious danger

After falling to Nats, club's NL East lead shrinks yet again

WASHINGTON -- The cramped, sweaty clubhouse was filled with an emptiness that the Mets have rarely experienced this season, if ever. A telling near silence existed, interrupted occasionally by sounds from the "Monday Night Football" telecast. When a player did have something to say, it sounded like: "Things have to change." And a change may be forthcoming even before the Mets play another game.

The Mets may make some noise on Tuesday. If they do, it will probably come from Paul Lo Duca. His fuse shortened by another excruciating and embarrassing defeat and by his removal from the Mets' latest on-field transgression, Lo Duca walked from the clubhouse toward the bus, weighing his options and trying to find a means of re-igniting his team.

"I might say something," Lo Duca said.

And will it be said loudly?

"Yup," he said. "Someone has to say something."

The Mets certainly don't want their two most recent performances to speak for them. Consecutive lopsided losses -- 10-6 to the Phillies on Sunday and 12-4 to the Nationals on Monday night -- had said too much. So maybe the catcher, who often wears his emotions on his sleeve, will express them. Lo Duca wasn't sure.

A number of Mets were hoping that they'd hear something from what some consider a damaging near vacuum in their midst: A talk, a speech, a meeting or a tirade -- anything -- would be beneficial, they said.

A change of venue and opponent hadn't changed their magic number to clinch the National League East from 11, and it had done little to change their karma. A fourth successive defeat, another loss filled with sloppy defense and subpar relief pitching, had only changed the division-race math. The Mets' lead in the NL East over the Phillies, who beat the Cardinals on Monday night, shrunk to 2 1/2 games.

As Shawn Green said, even before the Phillies' exercise in survival was complete on Monday, "We're in the thick of a race now. It's no longer ... we can win a handful of games, and it's over."

At this point, winning a handful of games appears to be beyond the Mets. Their confidence has been dangerously diluted since Wednesday night. They are so self-absorbed that few of them were aware of the epic battle underway in St. Louis, though a Phillies loss would have negated some of the effect of their defeat. Tom Glavine noticed the Phillies-Cardinals score on the scroll of the clubhouse television monitor and provided an update. "12-0, Phillies," he said. And the response was minimal.

"Really," Green said, "it matters more what we do."

"We need to respond," David Wright said. "We have a couple of options -- play below our normal level or play the kind of baseball we played to get here."

The Mets had expressed similar thoughts on Sunday after they'd been swept by the Phillies.

"We still control our own destiny," manager Willie Randolph said on Sunday.

Randolph and most of his players had expected a reversal of fortune, similar to what they had executed in Atlanta following the Phillies' four-game sweep in late August.

Instead, the Mets committed four more errors -- that's 10 in two games -- and their bullpen was routinely ineffective. Playing a team that has announced its intent to avoid last place, the Mets again performed as if they belonged there.

The errors, including a third one in two days by Jose Reyes, led to merely two unearned runs, but they underscored how sloppily the team had performed. And there were bases not covered, ill-advised throws and a brain cramp by Jorge Sosa.

"We were just as bad tonight as yesterday," Lo Duca said.

Perhaps worse. The Nationals are not the Phillies. The Phillies lead the league in runs; the Nationals are last in the big leagues. But they scored four times in the fourth, once in the fifth, four times in the sixth and three times in the seventh to produce their highest run total since July 13 and beat the Mets for the fifth time in 13 games.

Each of five Mets relievers -- losing pitcher Aaron Sele (one run), Scott Schoeneweis (two), Sosa (one), Willie Collazo (one) and Joe Smith (two) -- allowed runs after replacement starter Brian Lawrence had squandered a 4-0 lead.

Lawrence made the start because Orlando Hernandez couldn't. The club finally acknowledged El Duque's right foot problem is a bunion, but only after the 37-year-old pitcher was seen limping and wearing a special boot. His prognosis remains unclear.

And yes, the old line was particularly appropriate on Monday night, given his foot apparel and the Mets' performance: "They died with their boots."

Schoeneweis was also guilty of a throwing error that allowed two runs to score in the sixth. One play earlier, Wright muffed a double-play ball. The final touch came after a throwing error by Ramon Castro in the seventh. Ryan Church, playing the part of Greg Dobbs, hit a pinch-hit home run against Smith, but his was good for only two runs.

"Errors come in bunches," Randolph said, hoping perspective somehow would make his team's play seem less ragged. The manager acknowledged his team was pressing and playing "very uncharacteristically."

"We've got to find a way to turn it around," Randolph said. "We will," he promised.

Green made an ominous observation: "Nobody wants to be the one who screws up next. After the first couple of mistakes, we were on our heels."

"It's almost like we're playing not to lose," Lo Duca said.

That may be part of what he'll say on Tuesday -- if he does opt to speak.

But who will speak if Lo Duca doesn't?

"Only two guys in here have the ear of almost everyone," one player said. "Moises [Alou] and Carlos Delgado. Maybe Paulie can help ... I hope so."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.