WASHINGTON (AP) -No scoreboard-watching for Willie Randolph. No late-night Internet monitoring.
Nope, the New York Mets' manager can sleep easy even if he doesn't know how the Philadelphia Phillies did on a given day.
Randolph insists he loves the thrill of the chase, even if it's his team being reeled in by those Phillies.
When did he find out that New York's lead in the NL East was down to 1 1/2 games because Philadelphia managed to win a 14-inning game in St. Louis that finished after 1 a.m. Wednesday?
``When I woke up this morning,'' Randolph said before his team's game against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night. ``I slept good last night and caught it this morning when I got up.''
The Mets had a seven-game lead over Philadelphia a week ago, but a five-game losing streak entering Wednesday trimmed that way down.
The gist of Randolph's stance: Don't forget, we still have the division lead.
``Regardless of where we've come from or where we've been, we're still in the mix. It really doesn't matter how you get to this point,'' he said. ``We still have the chance to go to the dance and that to me is what it's all about.''
Even after a players-only, closed-door clubhouse meeting Tuesday, New York lost its second straight at Washington. Now New York will go to Florida for a four-game series against the Marlins beginning Thursday, followed by three more games against Washington.
And although the Nationals and Marlins are hoping to avoid last place in the NL East, Randolph said those two clubs worry him.
``Those are the dangerous teams right there. They don't have anything to lose. They can do off-the-wall things,'' he said. ``I'd rather be playing the Phillies and Atlanta right now, actually.''
Even with all the problems the Mets are having these days, including giving up 21 runs to Washington on Monday and Tuesday, establishing a Nationals' home record for scoring over two games?
``We've had bad pitching efforts. We've had bad bullpen efforts. We've had bad defensive efforts. We've had bad offensive efforts. Just kind of a combination of everything,'' third baseman David Wright said. ``Things like that are going to happen. You just hope they don't happen this late in the season. They have. We need to regroup. We need to refocus and just go out there and get back to basics.''
That includes playing well at a point in the season when, a year ago, the Mets were coasting to a division title.
``Bottom line, this team hasn't played in a big game in the regular season in two years, and we're starting playing them now, so we'll see what we're made of,'' catcher Paul Lo Duca said.
``I still think we're the best team in the National League. It's just a matter of going out and proving it. You go through ruts in the season; we're just going through a rut at the wrong time.''
Separately, he and Wright made the same point Randolph did: Regardless of what's happened over the last week, the Mets are still in first place.
And Randolph says he's not upset that his team is in a real fight with the Phillies.
Nope. He says he relishes it.
``This feels good to me. Because that's the way it should be. That's baseball. You want competition. You want teams to come after you, because it challenges you, makes you better, makes you stronger,'' the manager said.
``And when you become champions, you know you've earned it.''
Notes: LF Moises Alou started Wednesday after leaving Tuesday's game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left quadriceps muscle. He singled in the second inning Wednesday, stretching his hitting streak to 23 games, the longest of his career and the longest in the NL in 2007. ... 1B Carlos Delgado (straight right hip flexor) took batting practice Wednesday and will hit in a simulated game session Thursday.

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