Starter gives up three homers in short outing

They wanted to build on a nice comeback win that began the homestand. They had hoped some of their major issues were behind them finally.

But all season long, it has been one step forward and one step back for the Nationals. They slipped in the wrong direction again on Wednesday night. Starting pitcher Dan Haren allowed three home runs and the offense again left too many chances on the bases in a 10-1 loss to the New York Mets at Nationals Park.

Haren gave up three home runs in just four innings -- two of them to former Nats outfielder Marlon Byrd -- as Washington dropped back below .500 with a 29-30 record and fell a season-worst eight games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East. The Philadelphia Phillies (30-30) also took over sole possession of second place in the division.

Byrd staked New York to a 2-1 lead in the second inning with a long home run to left-center field. That came after the Nats took the early advantage on an RBI single by Ian Desmond to score Denard Span in the bottom of the first. It was their only lead of the game.

The Mets (23-33) quickly expanded their own lead in front of starter Dillon Gee. David Wright crushed a two-run homer of his own in the top of the third inning. Byrd followed two batters later with his second -- this one a solo shot to make it 5-1. Haren has now allowed 15 home runs in just 672Ú3 innings this season. His ERA also ballooned to 5.45.

New York continued its assault on the Washington bullpen. A two-run single by Anthony Recker in the fifth inning made it 7-1. That came off Nats reliever Craig Stammen, who walked two batters in the frame in one of his worst innings of an otherwise-strong season.

About the lone bright side for Washington was the big-league debut of reliever Ian Kroll. He allowed Omar Quintanilla to reach third base on a wild pitch after a double, but struck out three batters in the inning. In his first start at second base, top prospect Anthony Rendon was also flawless in the field and doubled in the eighth inning.

The Mets added three more runs in the seventh off reliever Erik Davis, though, to put the contest out of reach. Recker doubled down the line in left to score a run. He finished 2-for-5 with three RBI. Then Gee got into the act with an RBI single to left. Murphy delivered the final blow with yet another double to left to make it 10-1.

Gee entered the game with a 5.68 ERA, but became just the latest pitcher to take advantage of the Nats' struggling offense. He allowed only one run in seven innings of work with one walk and seven strikeouts. Washington did manage nine hits off Gee, but left eight runners stranded in scoring position. By the end of the night, that mattered little given the deficit.