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Tucker an unlikely hero as Mets rally past Nats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The New York Mets got a tiebreaking homer from
little-used Michael Tucker, 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief and a
sliding grab on the gravel by Carlos Delgado for the final out.

The Washington Nationals made three fielding errors, star rookie
Ryan Zimmerman committed a base-running gaffe and catcher Brian
Schneider stormed out of the clubhouse with an expletive-laden
tirade.

Any doubts as to which team has the National League's best
record and which is last in the NL East?

On a Mets club filled with All-Stars and MVP candidates, it was
spare part Tucker who came through with a solo shot in the eighth
inning on the only pitch he saw Sunday to lift the Mets to a 3-1
victory over the Nationals.

Tucker was released by the Nationals in spring training, signed
a minor league deal with the Mets in April and was called up
Wednesday when Cliff Floyd went on the DL.

"Every day, it's a new guy," said New York's Jose Valentin,
who added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly off Jon Rauch (3-3)
in the ninth. "He was today. Tomorrow, who knows who it's going to
be?"

The Mets got plenty of key contributions, including Delgado's
nice play with two on and two outs in the ninth. Known more for his
slugging than smooth fielding, he ran toward the stands, going from
sunny territory into the shade, and reached out to catch Brandon
Harper's foul popup. That finished off Billy Wagner's 28th save.

Then there was Steve Trachsel's 6 2-3 innings of one-run ball,
the only blemish being Alfonso Soriano's 38th homer of the season
and 200th of his career. And submariner Chad Bradford (4-2) got
Soriano to ground out with the bases loaded, two outs and the score
tied in the seventh.

"Very tough," Soriano said, "to pick up the ball."

Tucker had no such trouble on Rauch's fastball, connecting for
his first homer in more than a year.

"Mainly all you're trying to do is get a good pitch and not
miss it," said Tucker, who played down his connection to the
Nationals, adding: "That's in the past. You can't dwell on that."

Tucker entered Sunday to play left field during a double-switch
in the bottom of the seventh, when Bradford entered to face
Soriano.

Bradford left after yielding a one-out single in the eighth to
Zimmerman. When the next batter, Nick Johnson, lofted a lazy fly to
center off Darren Oliver, Zimmerman -- thinking there were two outs
-- rounded second and headed to third. The mistake allowed the Mets
to complete the 8-4-3 double play, with second baseman Valentin
jogging the ball most of the way over to first before flipping to
Delgado.

"It was a hit-and-run, and I just thought there were two outs,
so I just kept going, and that's it," Zimmerman said. "You feel
pretty bad. By the time I realized it, there was nothing I could
do."

Said Nationals manager Frank Robinson: "You're surprised
anytime anything like that happens on a baseball field. Have I had
it happen? Yes. Should it happen? No."

There were more miscues that upset Robinson, including errors by
Schneider and second baseman Marlon Anderson that led to an
unearned run in the seventh. He also didn't like the pitch Rauch
threw Tucker.

"It wasn't location. It was selection of pitch, period,"
Robinson said. "That's all that is -- a catcher and a pitcher not
being in tune with the situation."

Told about those remarks, Schneider responded: "There are 160
pitches a game and if he wants to say that about one pitch and one
time during the game, he has that opinion, he is entitled to that
opinion. Obviously you don't want to throw a pitch exactly where it
was. If the pitch was in a different location we would've had a
different result."

Moments later, Schneider was asked about his throwing error on
David Wright's steal attempt that helped produce the Mets' tying
run in the seventh. That's when the catcher began cursing and
yelling and knocked over a chair on his way out of the room.

His club is 51-66, a year after winning 50 of its first 81 games
and spending part of the summer in first place. The Mets,
meanwhile, are 71-45, the fastest they've reached 70 wins since
1986, the last time they won the World Series.

"Today was one of those days where you kind of feel like you
stole one," New York manager Willie Randolph said. "Real good
teams do that."

Game notes
Wagner's 312th save moved him into sole possession of 15th
place on baseball's career list. ... Tucker's last homer came July
17, 2005, for San Francisco at Los Angeles. ... Washington has
played eight consecutive games decided by three runs or fewer,
going 2-6.