• Turning point: New York scored once in the ninth to slim Washington's lead to 9-8, but pinch-hitter Ruben Gotay struck out with runners at the corners to end it.
• Hero: Ronnie Belliard, who went 3-for-4, capped the Nationals' big fifth inning with a three-run homer, his 11th of the year.
• Hunt for October: The Mets' lead over the Phillies dropped to 1½ games, their smallest lead since a 1½-game edge on Atlanta after games of July 16.
• Figure this: Before leaving with tightness in his left quadriceps in the fifth, Moises Alou extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a first-inning single, one shy of his career best. It's the longest hitting streak by a player in his 40s.
• Up against history: No major league team has failed to finish in first place after leading by seven or more games on Sept. 12 or later.
-- ESPN.com news services
Nationals 9, Mets 8
WASHINGTON (AP) -- After making 10 errors in a two-game span, the skidding New York Mets figured they had to regroup.
So they held a team meeting Tuesday afternoon before playing Washington, determined to turn themselves around in time to hold off second-place Philadelphia in the NL East.
It didn't help.
John Maine squandered a big lead and the Mets' losing streak reached five games Tuesday night when their ninth-inning rally fell short in a 9-8 loss to the Nationals.
"Everyone did their job but me," Maine said. "I didn't hold my end up."
Gotay slammed his bat on the plate, the perfect picture of frustration right now for the Mets, whose lead over Philadelphia is down to just 1½ games after the Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-4 in 14 innings.
It's the Mets' smallest lead since a 1½-game edge on Atlanta after games of July 16.
New York had a seven-game cushion after games of Sept. 12. No major league team has failed to finish in first place after leading by seven or more games on Sept. 12 or later.
Just before batting practice, manager Willie Randolph spoke briefly to his team, then the players took the floor. Randolph, who before the game took offense to the suggestion that he's too placid publicly, said team meetings aren't any sort of elixir.
"If we win, everyone thinks they work," Randolph said. "We got together because we're a team and we stick together."
New York started strong again, building leads of 4-0 and 7-3 for Maine. But Ronnie Belliard's three-run homer capped a five-run fifth that gave Washington an 8-7 lead, and pinch-hitter D'Angelo Jimenez added a solo shot in the sixth off Scott Schoeneweis.
"Chip away, little by little, and maybe we have a chance to give a big blow to the opposite team," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "On back-to-back nights, it's pretty incredible, considering we have a tough time scoring five runs in a game."
The Mets also lost left fielder Moises Alou in the fifth with tightness in his left quadriceps muscle after he hustled to first base on an infield single. Alou missed more than two months this season with a strained left quadriceps before returning in late July. After the game, Alou said he expected to play Wednesday.
New York has been without slugger Carlos Delgado since Sept. 5 because of a strained right hip flexor, and pitcher Orlando Hernandez could miss the rest of the regular season with a sore right foot. He must wear a protective boot on his foot for seven to 10 days.
The Mets played errorless defense this time but Maine (14-10) allowed a career-high eight runs in 4 1/3 innings to the suddenly dangerous Nationals, who have scored 21 runs in their last two games.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, we win this game," New York third baseman David Wright said. "We take a lot of positives from this. We played extremely well defensively. It was one of the best games of the season offensively."
Nook Logan and Felipe Lopez singled to start the Washington fifth. Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns each hit an RBI single before Belliard teed off for a long three-run homer over the left-field bullpen.
It was Belliard's 11th home run of the year. He finished with three hits.
Jesus Colome (5-1), the fourth of nine Nationals pitchers, worked a scoreless sixth for the win. Cordero earned his 35th save in 44 chances.
The Mets took a 4-0 lead for the second consecutive night in Washington, though on Monday the Nationals scored 12 straight runs in a 12-4 victory.
This time, Jose Reyes drew a leadoff walk from Washington's Joel Hanrahan in the first inning. One out later, Wright hit an RBI double and Carlos Beltran had a run-scoring single. Beltran scored on Paul Lo Duca's bases-loaded sacrifice fly, and Endy Chavez added an RBI single.
Kearns led off the second with his 14th home run. Shawn Green hit his second homer in two nights for New York in the third, a solo shot that made it 5-1.
Washington scored in the third when Logan tripled and scored on Lopez's sacrifice fly. The Nationals cut it to 5-3 in the fourth on a run-scoring single by Brian Schneider.
Lo Duca had an RBI double in the fifth, and Chavez's run-scoring single made it 7-3.
"I think we played pretty well," Wright said. "We made steps in the right direction. You take away one inning. We didn't play all nine. We played seven or eight. It wasn't enough."
Alou extended his hitting streak to 22 games, one shy of his career best. It's the longest hitting streak by a player in his 40s. ... The Mets purchased the contract of LHP Dave Williams from Triple-A New Orleans and designated RHP Brian Lawrence for assignment. ... Washington 1B Dmitri Young missed his third game after getting hit with a hard one-hopper Saturday. He had an MRI. No structural damage was found. ... The Nationals have five pinch-hit home runs this season -- three in the past four games. ... Mets INF Marlon Anderson was suspended two games by the commissioner's office for throwing equipment Saturday. He appealed and struck out as a pinch-hitter to end the seventh.