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Mets’ Struggles Continue

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 24: Adam LaRoche #25 of the Washington Nationals connects on a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on July 24, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 24: Adam LaRoche #25 of the Washington Nationals connects on a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on July 24, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ Adam LaRoche grabbed a different bat and
suddenly solved the enigma of R.A. Dickey.

LaRoche hit a tiebreaking homer and the Washington Nationals
handed Dickey his first loss in three months, beating the sinking
New York Mets 5-2 Tuesday night behind Gio Gonzalez’s seven crisp
innings.

At the suggestion of injured teammate Ian Desmond, LaRoche
switched bats in the sixth to a lighter model that belonged to
speedy outfielder Roger Bernadina.

“I’ve been using a heavier bat and obviously it hasn’t been
working against Dickey, so I figured it was time to try something
new,” said LaRoche, who was 2 for 14 against the knuckleballer
before his long home run.

Gonzalez (13-5) gave up only two singles in a rematch of
All-Star pitchers, five days after New York hit him hard to back
Dickey during his 13th win.

This time, it went the other way.

“Just wanted to redeem myself from the last start,” Gonzalez
said. “You always want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don’t want
to feel down and out. A lot of these guys came up to me and gave me
some positive energy, positive feedback. So the best I wanted to do
was return the favor.”

Dickey (13-2) allowed five consecutive hits in the sixth, ending
his 11-game winning streak, as the Mets lost their fifth straight
and 11th in 12 games. Their lone victory since July 7 was Dickey’s
9-5 win over Gonzalez last Thursday in Washington.

In a mini shake-up before the game, New York demoted slumping
right fielder Lucas Duda to the minors.

“When you’re not playing good baseball against teams like this,
they exploit you pretty quickly,” Mets third baseman David Wright
said. “This stretch is not going to define us over the course of
the year.”

Ryan Zimmerman kept up his tear at the plate with three hits and
the Nationals won their fourth in a row to improve the NL’s best
record to 57-39. They are 8-3 against the Mets this season, winning
all four series so far, and will go for a three-game sweep
Wednesday at noon with ace Stephen Strasburg on the mound against
rookie Jeremy Hefner.

“I think we’re clicking pretty good,” LaRoche said. “It can
get better, but it’s pretty good right now.”

Sean Burnett got three outs in the eighth and Tyler Clippard
fanned two in a perfect ninth, finishing the three-hitter for his
17th save. Gonzalez struck out four, walked two and did not allow
an earned run in his longest outing since May 27.

“It was a masterpiece,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
“He had something to prove.”

Jordany Valdespin set a Mets record with his fifth pinch-hit
homer of the season. The rookie connected off Ryan Mattheus leading
off the eighth, breaking a mark he previously shared with Mark
Carreon (1989) and Danny Heep (1983).

Dickey was 11-0 in his previous 16 starts since getting roughed
up in a 14-6 loss April 18 on a rainy day in Atlanta. Trying to
become the first 14-game winner in the majors, he was unable to
stop New York’s nasty slide. He yielded five runs _ four earned _
and eight hits in six innings.

The 37-year-old right-hander tossed an inning of relief Saturday
against the Dodgers to help an overworked bullpen, only two days
after throwing 111 pitches over 7 1-3 innings in Washington. He has
a 5.36 ERA in his last seven outings.

“I had a good knuckleball,” Dickey said. “I should have
pitched into the eighth inning. I felt too good for that to
happen.”

Dickey whiffed star rookie Bryce Harper all three times on
knuckleballs ranging from 66-81 mph and was in command until the
sixth, when he gave up five straight hits with two outs.

Michael Morse singled and LaRoche drove a low knuckler into the
upper deck in right, snapping a 1-all tie with his 17th homer.
Danny Espinosa singled, Bernadina beat out a slow dribbler toward
first and Jesus Flores hit an RBI single to left. Jason Bay’s wide
throw to the plate got away for an error that allowed Bernadina to
score, making it 5-1.

Espinosa’s throwing error at shortstop led to an unearned run in
the second. Ronny Cedeno hit an RBI single to right with two outs,
giving New York its first lead in 42 innings since last Thursday,
but was thrown out by Harper trying to stretch it into a double.

Gonzalez retired his next 11 batters and did not permit another
hit until Ike Davis’ two-out single in the seventh.

A switch-hitter, Espinosa batted right-handed against Dickey to
get a better look at the knuckleball. The first time up, Espinosa
struck out swinging. But in the fourth, his two-out double tied it
1-all after Zimmerman opened the inning with a bloop double.

NOTES: Flores (back) was back behind the plate after sitting out
two games. … Washington is 9-1-3 in series against NL East
opponents. … Harper is 0 for 10 against Dickey with six
strikeouts. … New York released RHP Miguel Batista, designated
for assignment Sunday.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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