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New York - The New York Mets' day started with such promise - and ended with a backup catcher pitching the ninth inning.
Zack Wheeler was roughed up in a home debut that didn't even last five innings, Anthony Recker gave up a two-run homer to Ian Desmond in the ninth and the Mets got little right in between, losing 13-2 to the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
When Brandon Lyon gave up six runs and five hits in the eighth, Mets manager Terry Collins had to use Scott Rice. That put Recker, who pitched some at Alvernia (Pa.) University, in position for the ninth.
"I said Recks, "Can you pitch?' manager Terry Collins recalled. He said, "Yes,' and I said, "You're in."'
Recker smiled when he heard his name announced as he warmed up to pitch the final inning. He walked Jayson Werth on four pitches, then gave up a two-run homer to Desmond that clanged off the facade of the restaurant in left field.
"I wanted to throw strikes and stay within myself and not get hurt," said Recker, who reached 88 mph on the stadium radar.
Mets starters Matt Harvey and Dillon Gee dominated the Nationals in the first two games of the series, and many of the 33,366 fans - the second-highest attendance this season at Citi Field after opening day - were eager to see Wheeler (1-1) do the same in his third big league start. The crowd included his parents and two brothers.
He was impressive in the first inning, striking out two in the first with a fastball that ranged from 94-98 mph.
"Loved the way he started the game with strike after strike," Collins said. "After LaRoche hit the first pitch for a home run, it got his attention. ... He's a work in progress and his future is bright and his ceiling is high."
But LaRoche quieted the festive crowd in the second with a drive off the facing of the second deck in right field on the first pitch. Unsettled, Wheeler walked Werth on four pitches and allowed an RBI double to Desmond, who drove in three runs to give him 28 RBIs in June, a Nationals record for any month.
Desmond held off two sliders before sending a fastball into the right-center gap. One long fly out later, Suzuki singled through a drawn-in infield for a 3-0 lead. After Gonzalez struck out, Span doubled to left-center on a 93 mph fastball for the inning's final run.
Wheeler slowly walked off the mound to near silence. When he sat in the dugout, Collins stopped by for a moment and the 23-year-old received pats of encouragement from pitching coach Dan Warthen and Harvey.
Werth homered to left-center on another fastball with two outs in the third and Wheeler was chased after walking LaRoche with two outs in the fifth, putting runners on first and third.
The sixth overall pick by San Francisco Giants in the 2009 amateur draft, Wheeler has had mixed results in the majors. He pitched six scoreless innings in his debut in Atlanta but gave up four runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings against the Chicago White Sox, an outing in which Collins said Wheeler was tipping his pitches.
"If he was I wouldn't tell you," Desmond said when asked if Wheeler was still indicating.
This time Wheeler yielded five runs and six hits in 4 2-3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.
"I don't know if anything really changed after the first," Wheeler said. "I left a few balls up and I'm learning pretty fast that you can't get away with mistakes."
Gio Gonzalez (5-3) pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits. Even better, Washington finally gave him some run support - and then some.
The Nationals set a season-high for runs as they reached the midpoint at 41-40, a disappointment for the NL East preseason favorite. Washington improved to 4-8-2 in road series by taking two of three from the Mets.
Kurt Suzuki hit a two-run homer and Anthony Rendon had a two-run double when Washington batted around in a six-run eighth. Suzuki also had an RBI single in the second against Wheeler.
"He looked pretty good," LaRoche said of Wheeler. "Got to work on that control a bit. He's got a live arm, he's got some really good potential."
Gonzalez (5-3) won for only the third time in 11 outings since May 5, even though he has given up two earned runs or fewer in 10 of those games.
After giving up a one-out single to Daniel Murphy and walking David Wright in the first, Gonzalez retired 17 of 18 around Wright's fourth-inning double before pinch-hitter Zach Lutz walked to open the seventh.
Josh Satin followed with a single, and pitching coach Steve McCatty took a slow walk to the mound. Gonzalez retired the next three batters and finished with seven strikeouts and two walks.
John Buck hit a two-run homer in the ninth for the Mets.
• The Mets finished June 11-15, Washington was 13-13. ... Washington OF Bryce Harper (left knee bursitis) went 0 for 3 with a walk and run scored in what was likely his final rehab outing for Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday. He batted .364 (4 for 11) with a double, triple and homer in four games. ... Rob Johnson was last Mets position player to pitch. He did it May 18, 2012, at Toronto.