And given all of their recent experience with the bottom of the NL East standings, their three-game series this weekend is anything but meaningless to them.
In a game played pretty much for fourth place and pride, Carlos Beltran's three-run homer in the 10th inning lifted the Mets past the Nationals 5-2 on Friday night, after New York blew a two-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"We've played too hard and gone through too much to go home with something negative," said Cliff Floyd, who put New York ahead in the sixth with a two-run single. "They're in the same boat as us. I think we're the captain of the ship, though, but they're on the boat."
The fifth-place Mets (76-77) have won five of their last seven games but said Friday that ace Pedro Martinez will be shut down once they're mathematically eliminated.
Still, manager Willie Randolph spoke proudly of how his club came through in the 10th.
"We always fight back. We've been that way the whole year," Randolph said. "We don't hang our heads about anything; we try to get back in it as much as we can."
The fourth-place Nationals (78-76), meanwhile, have dropped five of six games. In four of those defeats, Washington gave up the go-ahead run in its opponent's final at-bat -- three times on home runs.
"It has nothing to do with fatigue," Washington manager Frank Robinson said. "We're not executing. We're not making good pitches. We're getting ourselves in trouble."
Washington felt good about itself briefly in the ninth, when pinch-hitter Carlos Baerga tied the game with a two-run homer off reliever Roberto Hernandez, who has blown six of seven save opportunities this season.
It was the type of late rally that the Nationals produced repeatedly en route to leading the division at 50-31. But, as Baerga put it: "We don't find a way to finish it off the way we
Gary Majewski (4-4) walked pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson with one out in the 10th, and Jose Reyes reached on an error by shortstop Deivi Cruz. Beltran drove a 3-2 pitch that wound up right over the plate into the visiting bullpen for his 16th homer.
"I made a mistake," Majewski said, "and he gets paid to hit mistakes."
It was only the second homer allowed by Majewski in 81 2/3 innings this season.
Beltran also had a single and double, and Floyd had three hits, too. Floyd also threw out Nick Johnson at third base in the fourth inning for his league-leading 15th outfield assist.
"We've been playing good baseball all year and we were in the hunt for the playoffs," Beltran said. "Right now we're out, but we've still got to finish the season strong and win as many games as we can. Nobody wants to finish in fifth place."
Mets starter Steve Trachsel scattered five hits over six shutout innings in the opener of a series between teams that have combined to finish last in the NL East each of the past four seasons.
Washington's Esteban Loaiza gave up two runs in seven innings, both scoring on Floyd's hit with the bases loaded in the sixth. For Loaiza, it wound up the ninth time he's finished with a loss or no-decision despite allowing two runs or fewer. Even with 24 quality starts, he has an 11-10 record.
"Same, same, same," he said. "Close games like this have been costing us in the second half."
Looking ahead to this series earlier in the week, Robinson talked about how important he feels it is to finish ahead of the Mets.
"I'd certainly prefer to finish fourth than finish fifth. There's a stigma to that -- last. 'You finished last, last year.' And after the start we had," Robinson said, "that just kind of throws cold water completely on the whole season right there."
Zimmerman has five hits in the past two games. ... Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen appealed his one-game suspension for an equipment-throwing tantrum Sept. 14 against the Mets. He went 0-for-5 and is 9-for-66 in September, a .136 average.