The Mets have remained afloat because R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana have both pitched like aces for most of the season. After the All-Star break, however, they both experienced a swoon.

Dickey righted himself by being the stopper of a six-game skid in going 7.1 strong innings in a victory over the Nationals on Thursday. It was Santana's turn to bounce back when he took the mound against the Dodgers Friday night in the opener of a three-game weekend series at Citi Field.

Santana is still adrift. He lasted just three innings, giving up six runs on seven hits in a 7-6 loss to the Dodgers. It is never good when there is a meeting on the mound in the second inning after your ace has walked the bases loaded and then after that meeting he walks the next batter on four pitches to bring home a run.

Dodgers third baseman Jerry Hairston entered the game 0-for-18 lifetime against Santana. He was 2-for-2 in his first two at-bats. Though the Mets (47-46) clawed their way back in the game, and the bullpen managed to limit the damage, they could not overcome Santana's shaky start. The result was a demoralizing loss, which was made even more so by the unsettling sight of their crumbling ace.

In three straight losses, Santana (6-7) has given up 19 runs on 28 hits, including six home runs over 12.2 innings for a 13.50 ERA. In the 10 games before the no-hitter he had given up four home runs. In the eight games since he has given up 12 homers.

"He's not hurt," Terry Collins said. "We're going to talk about some alternatives to see what we can do to get some energy back in his arm."