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Paolo Espino struck out a career-high seven while also singling and scoring a run for the first time in the majors, leading the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the free-falling New York Mets on Friday night.

The loss was the 19th in 25 games this month for the Mets, who entered August atop the NL East but are now as close to last as they are to first — 8 1/2 games behind division-leading Atlanta and 8 1/2 games ahead of fifth-place Miami.

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“We’re trying and we’re giving our best,” said Javier Báez, who provided the Mets’ lone run with a fourth-inning homer. “We’ve just got to keep our head up. Just got to come back tomorrow and try again It’s going to bounce our way one time.”

The Mets are 2-12 in their last 14 games, a stretch which includes eight straight losses in games decided by one run. It’s the longest such streak for New York since a nine-game skid in one-run games in 2018.

“We made the plays to keep the game close and the pitchers did an outstanding job,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “Once again, another one-run game that we just can’t flip because of our offense. Just keep working hard. We’ve got to be better tomorrow.”

Only two players got beyond first base against Espino and four relievers. Francisco Lindor tripled with two outs in the first and was stranded when Báez struck out. Sixteen of the final 18 Mets batters were set down following Báez’s homer.

Espino (4-4) allowed three hits and walked none over five innings. His previous high of six strikeouts was set three times, most recently last Saturday against Milwaukee.

“He gave us five strong innings. I mapped out what I want to do before the game,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said.

Kyle Finnegan, who gave up a walk-off homer to Pete Alonso in the previous game between the teams at Citi Field on Aug. 12, walked the Mets slugger leading off the ninth before locking down his sixth save by getting Lindor to ground into a forceout and inducing Báez to hit into a double play.

“Last time I stepped on that mound, it didn’t go so well for me,” Finnegan said. “(Báez) is trying to hit it deep and he’s trying to win the game for his team. I wanted to get him on the ground and we were able to turn the double play. When it works out exactly as you hope it did, it’s awesome.”

Espino helped his cause by sparking the Nationals’ two-run third inning with a leadoff single against Rich Hill (6-6). Victor Robles was hit by a pitch and Alcides Escobar singled before Espino scored on Juan Soto’s groundout. Josh Bell followed with an RBI single.

Escobar finished with two hits.

Hill gave up five hits and walked none with eight strikeouts in five innings.

“It’s disappointing, just having that third inning,” Hill said. “I expect more out of myself, to be able to keep the other team at bay and give us a good chance to win the ballgame.”

Alonso went 0 for 3 as his career-high 10-game hitting streak ended. Brandon Nimmo’s career-high eight-game streak stopped when he went 0 for 4.

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RAIN, RAIN WENT AWAY

Heavy afternoon thunderstorms delayed the start of the game by 21 minutes. The Mets have had nine home games — plus a game at Yankee Stadium on July 2 — postponed due to rain this season.

NOT OVER THE HILL

Hill became the third 40-something Mets starting pitcher to strike out at least eight and walk none in an outing. Tom Glavine did it at age 40 on May 27, 2006, and Bartolo Colon did it four times, most recently at age 43 on July 26, 2016.

HELLO, JERRY

The Mets will retire No. 36 in honor of Jerry Koosman prior to Saturday’s game. The left-handed Koosman went 140-137 with a 3.09 ERA and 1,799 strikeouts in 12 seasons with the club and won the 1969 World Series clincher. He was dealt by the Mets to the Minnesota Twins in 1978.

Koosman ranks second in team history in starts, complete games, innings pitched and shutouts, third in wins and seventh in ERA. His number is the sixth retired by the Mets and the third worn by a member of the 1969 champions, joining manager Gil Hodges (14) and ace Tom Seaver (41). Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza (31), original Mets manager Casey Stengel (37) also had their numbers retired. Jackie Robinson (42) had his number retired by every team in the majors.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: C Tomas Nido (left thumb) was activated from the injured list. Fellow C Chance Sisco was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse in a corresponding roster move. … RHP Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery), who threw an inning Thursday for Single-A Brooklyn, is scheduled to throw at least an inning again for Brooklyn Sunday. If he returns to the Mets this season, it will likely be as a reliever.

UP NEXT

Nationals: LHP Sean Nolin (0-2, 9.00 ERA) makes his second start at Citi Field, which is located about 30 miles from his hometown of Seaford on Long Island.

Mets: RHP Marcus Stroman (9-12, 2.85 ERA), another Long Island native, will look to reach double digits in wins for the fourth time in his career.

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