NEW YORK — Kelly Shoppach drifted toward the backstop, tracking Kurt Suzuki's high foul popup as it twisted in the wind. The catcher squeezed his mitt, and the ball bounced right out.
Two pitches later, Suzuki hit a ball that no one could catch, far over the left-field wall.
And just like that, the listless New York Mets were headed to another disappointment at Citi Field.
Gio Gonzalez earned his big league-leading 19th victory and the Washington Nationals backed him with three home runs to beat the Mets 5-1 Monday night.
"I just misplayed it and the wind kept carrying it and I tried to stay behind it, stay behind it, stay behind it. And, you know, just popped out of there. Nobody feels worse than I do," Shoppach said.
"It made me so mad," he added.
The next time Suzuki came up, Shoppach had a word for his fellow catcher.
"I just told Kurt, 'Couldn't you just hit a single?'" he said.
To which Suzuki responded: "I know, I felt bad for you."
Suzuki put the Nationals ahead in the third and Ryan Zimmerman launched a two-run shot later in the inning. Ian Desmond added a two-run drive in the fourth.
That was plenty for Gonzalez (19-7) and the team with the best record in the majors. The lefty gave up three hits over six innings — none until Scott Hairston homered in the fourth.
The Mets lost their fourth in a row, deepening their drought at Citi Field. They tied a team record by scoring three or fewer runs for the 11th straight game at home, matching the mark last done in 1979.
David Wright and his teammates have gone 106 straight innings at home without scoring more than one run.
Mets manager Terry Collins tried a timing adjustment, changing when his starters took batting practice. He had them hit later, wanting to cut down the 2½-hour gap between BP and game time.
"We're kind of grasping at straws," Collins admitted.
The Mets have won only four of their last 23 home games, and this loss eliminated them from the NL East race. They are mathematically alive in the wild-card chase.
"I've done this long enough to know that you don't ever give up," Collins said. "You don't ever stop, you don't ever stop grinding it out. You don't ever stop walking through the locker room every day making sure the guys are upbeat, that they're positive, trying to move forward. That doesn't change one bit."
The Nationals opened a six-game swing that ends this weekend in Atlanta, where they'll play their closest pursuers in the NL East.
It had already been a jocular trip for the Nationals by the time they arrived in New York. As part of rookie hazing that is traditional in baseball culture, the club made its newcomers dress up as the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team — including red leotards and gold medals — for the train ride from Washington to Manhattan and dinner out Sunday night.
Teen star Bryce Harper wore the outfit, then had a wardrobe malfunction against the Mets. He broke his belt while diving for Andres Torres' liner in the fourth, and quickly hustled to the Nationals' bullpen in center field for a loaner.
While Andy Murray was winning the U.S. Open tennis tournament right across the street, Mets rookie Collin McHugh (0-2) was serving up home runs. Suzuki hit his fourth, Zimmerman got his 21st and Desmond connected for his 22nd, all off the 25-year-old righty making his third major league start.
Zimmerman's shot was retrieved by a fan dressed in Mets orange who hopped onto the black batter's eye in dead center field and danced with the souvenir, drawing cheers from the crowd.Comment on this story
NOTES: Mets RHP R.A. Dickey (18-4, 2.64 ERA) will oppose RHP Jordan Zimmermann (10-8, 2.99) on Tuesday night. ... Harper said he doesn't expect to start against Dickey — the rookie is 0 for 10 with six strikeouts vs. the knuckleballer, no matter where he stands or what he swings. "In, out, up, down, back and forth, light, heavy, tried it all. Just can't hit the guy," Harper said. ... Gonzalez has beaten the Mets three times in the last two months. ... Zimmerman has a 14-game hitting streak. ... Washington is 12-4 against the Mets this year. ... Torres took away an extra-base hit from Danny Espinosa with a leaping grab. ... Mets RHP Jenrry Mejia will start in Milwaukee this weekend and RHP Jeremy Hefner will go to the bullpen.