Manager Jim Riggleman decided before the game that no matter what happened, short of a 15-inning game, relievers Tyler Clippard and Matt Capps would not pitch Monday night.  And he stuck to his word.

So when things played out like so many have in the past two weeks, with the Nats nursing a small lead into the late innings, Riggleman needed to press others into the roles "Clip 'n' Save" have been filling so admirably.

Each of the five remaining relievers pitched, and when it was all said and done--despite some truly nerve-wracking moments--the Washington Nationals emerged with another one-run victory, 3-2 over the New York Mets.  The win vaults the Nats past the Mets for sole possession of second place in the N.L. East with a record of 18-14, two games behind the division leading Philadelphia Phillies.

The Nats' record in one-run games so far in 2010 is 8-3.

Rookie Luis Atilano, making his fourth start, won his third game to keep his record pristine.  He did not allow a run in five and one-third innings.  He gave up five hits and cut his walks allowed to just two, and struck out five.

"He really did a nice job for us," Riggleman said of Atilano.  "We wanted to get everything we could out of him because we knew we didn't have Clippard and Capps at the other end.  He gave us a chance and we got it."

After Atilano left the game, Riggleman sent a parade of relievers up against the Mets, to varying degrees of success.  But the ultimate goal was reached eventually.

Doug Slaten came in for the rookie with one out in the sixth to make his Nationals debut with the Nats leading 2-0, courtesy of solo home runs by Adam Kennedy (2) and Ryan Zimmerman (6). 

He gave up a couple of quick singles, but got Mets' rookie 1B Ike Davis to squib one of the end of his bat to third, and Ryan Zimmerman caught the ball racing toward first and fired, doubling up David Wright, who had strayed too far on the quick pop-up.

Slaten surrendered two more hits to start the seventh, though neither were hit very hard.  Jeff Francoeur tapped a ball to Adam Dunn at first, and Slaten was late breaking to the bag.  The play went as an infield single.  The next batter, catcher Rod Barajas, dumped a soft liner to right in front of Roger Bernadina, and the Nats were in a hole with runners on first and third and none out .

Slaten got pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr to strike out swinging for the first out of the inning.  Angel Pagan then hit a comebacker and the Nats completed a 1-2-5 rundown of Francoeur to get the second out.  It would proved to be a big out.

Mets' 2B Luis Castillo looped a ball just over the outstretched glove of shortstop Ian Desmond, sending  the slow-footed Barajas homeward from second base.  Left fielder Josh Willingham double-clutched on the throw, and Barajas slid home just before the ball arrived.  The Nats' lead was cut in half 2-1.

Tyler Walker entered against Jose Reyes, and threw a 3-2 slider that Reyes watched break over the outside corner of the plate for strike three.  Reyes was incensed and threw his bat and batting helmet, earning him an ejection.  Manager Jerry Manuel followed suit and received the same treatment.

The Nats got a much needed insurance run in the eighth, as Adam Dunn led off with a double, pinch-runner Willy Taveras took third on a soft liner to left by Josh Willingham, and scored on an Ivan Rodriguez (4-for-4, RBI) line drive to right field.

The bottom of the frame provided more excitement.

Walker struck out Jason Bay to start the inning, but David Wright reached on an infield single to short that Desmond just couldn't quite make a play on.  Riggleman brought in Sean Burnett to face a left-handed batter, as he had the two previous games.  And as the two previous games, Burnett did not do his job, allowing a single to Ike Davis.

Brian Bruney then emerged and struck out Francoeur for the second out.  Facing Barajas, Bruney unleashed a wild pitch to the backstop that moved both runners up.  Fortunately for Nats fans clinging to the edge of their seats, Bruney settled down and popped up Barajas to end the innings, stranding runners at second and third.

Washington went quietly in the ninth, setting the stage for 39-year old Miguel Batista to enter for the save opportunity.

Batista got Frank Catalanotto to ground out to second to start things off, but then immediately allowed a long home run to Angel Pagan to bring Mets within one run.  After Castillo struck out looking for out number two, Alex Cora (who had replaced the ejected Reyes) singled cleanly to center field, setting up a dramatic at bat with Jason Bay, who represented the winning run.

But Batista saved his best for last, and got Francoeur to chase a ball off the plate, and the right fielder could not check his swing.

See how easy that was?  Who needs Clippard and Capps?

The second game of the three-game series from Citifield poses Scott Olsen (2-1, 3.54) against Jon Niese (1-1, 3.60) at 7:20 pm.

NATS NOTES:  Washington stole four bases, including two by Nyjer Morgan.  None led to a score.

Bernadina went 0-for-4 and failed to get a sacrifice bunt down, eventually striking out.  He left six runners on base.

Nationals LHP John Lannan (left elbow discomfort) threw a bullpen session and is expected to make his next scheduled start Thursday.