ATLANTA — For a month, the Mets prevented nights like this. They punished weak opponents, typically with stirring comebacks. They withstood accidents and prevented gaffes. They gave their followers a well-earned measure of hope.
On Wednesday at SunTrust Park, it felt like the first half once more. The Mets got here again to take a seventh-inning lead on the Atlanta Braves. Then Manager Mickey Callaway pulled starter Steven Matz, who had thrown simply 79 pitches in six dazzling innings. The Braves promptly scored 5 runs off Seth Lugo to win, 6-Four, giving the Mets their third loss in a row.
“We had the best reliever in baseball sitting down there in Seth Lugo; he’s been doing the job for a month and a half,” Callaway mentioned, including that Matz had simply run the bases and was because of face two harmful right-handed hitters. “I’ll make that move 100 times out of 100. That’s the right move in my mind. I understand that it didn’t work out.”
Matz had two hits of his personal — together with a two-out single that sparked the Mets’ go-ahead rally in the prime of the seventh — and retired 14 Braves in a row. And whereas Lugo allowed some weak hits, he walked the leadoff man and the subsequent six hitters made contact off him, dooming the Mets.
Lugo had allowed solely 4 hits to his earlier 58 batters, half of a stretch that earned him the National League Reliever of the Month award in July. This time, he gave up 5 hits — all singles — in a span of seven batters. On one of the singles, he didn’t cowl first base after Pete Alonso ranged too far off the bag.
“I was just unlucky,” mentioned Lugo, who blamed himself for the defensive lapse. “I thought I made a bunch of good pitches. They didn’t really hit anything hard.”
It was not the Mets’ solely loss of the day. Earlier Wednesday, they positioned Jeff McNeil, their All-Star leadoff man, on the 10-day injured checklist with a left hamstring pressure. In doing so, they welcomed again Ruben Tejada, who performed his first sport for the crew since the 2015 division sequence at Dodger Stadium.
Tejada batted seventh on Wednesday and went zero for Four with a strikeout, two floor outs and a fly out. He began for McNeil at second base, sporting the identical street grays and the identical No. 11 he did in Los Angeles 4 years in the past this October. Chase Utley rolled into him that evening, and Tejada spent 4 years bouncing.
The Mets lower him the subsequent March. He has since performed in St. Louis, San Francisco and Baltimore, with Class AAA stops in Sacramento; Scranton, Penn.; Norfolk, Va.; and Syracuse. The damaged fibula from that fateful playoff sport altered the course of his profession.
“It takes a lot to take it out of my mind, because it’s a hard moment, a special moment in the playoffs,” Tejada, 29, mentioned by his locker right here on Wednesday. “But finally I passed the page. I feel really good and healthy, 100 percent in that leg. It’s fine now.”
He was hitting .330 for Syracuse, spraying the ball to all fields, making contact persistently and convincing the Mets that he might execute the fundamentals properly sufficient to exchange an All-Star. So Tejada — not Dilson Herrera, who has 22 dwelling runs — took the roster spot of Jeff McNeil, who was positioned on the injured checklist with a strained left hamstring.
McNeil, who’s hitting .332 with 15 homers and a .400 on-base proportion, sustained the damage in the ninth inning Tuesday as he stretched to succeed in first base on a floor out in a 5-Three loss to the Braves. McNeil hopped awkwardly after crossing the bag, got here to a cease in foul territory and grabbed his left leg.
A magnetic resonance imaging examination on Wednesday morning revealed the extent of the damage, which General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen known as “very low-grade.” But McNeil can not return till Aug. 24, at the earliest, and his absence highlights the Mets’ precarious place.
The Mets had gained 15 of 16 video games earlier than shedding the finale of their dwelling sequence with the Washington Nationals on Sunday. Then they misplaced the opener right here, and now they’ve misplaced McNeil — after shedding Dominic Smith (foot) and Robinson Cano (hamstring) in the earlier two weeks.
“It’s never easy to lose one of your core players — and Jeff at the top of the lineup, with the ability to get multiple hits it seems like every night, is a big blow,” Van Wagenen mentioned. “But the team has shown all year some resiliency and the belief that the next guy up can contribute. The guys haven’t lost their spirit. You pick up the pieces and you keep going.”
Without McNeil, Cano and Smith, the Mets are down three left-handed hitters. Manager Mickey Callaway mentioned he would most likely platoon the right-handed Tejada with Joe Panik, a left-handed hitter, at second base. Michael Conforto — who was listed as the cleanup hitter Wednesday — Panik and infielder Luis Guillorme are the solely left-handed hitters amongst the place gamers.
The Mets have earned their spot in the pennant race with their blistering play since the All-Star break, however their listless first half leaves them little margin for error. Their loss on Wednesday pushed them to 10 video games behind the Braves in the National League East — with Washington and now Philadelphia in between. They are three video games out of a wild-card spot, with two groups to go earlier than they get there.
A chronic droop might rapidly derail the Mets’ pleasure journey, and so they understand how a lot McNeil has helped steer them up the standings.
“I think everybody recognizes he’s one of our better hitters,” Callaway mentioned. “But the nature of these guys is they’re not going to let this bother them too much.”
In 2015, they used Tejada’s damaged leg as inspiration for his or her run to the World Series. Utley was an very best villain, a longtime tormentor with the Phillies turned hard-edged veteran with the Dodgers. His takeout slide was a sensible baseball transfer — by denying the Mets a double play, it allowed the Dodgers to tie the sport — however miscast in an period of heightened participant security.
“The way he got injured, we think it’s not fair,” mentioned reliever Jeurys Familia, one of six gamers left from the Mets’ World Series roster that yr. “I think that motivated everybody in the clubhouse to play for the team and also for him, to try to win the whole thing.”
The league quickly enacted new guidelines to stop such rolling blocks, but it surely didn’t do a lot for Tejada, who nonetheless felt discomfort the subsequent season in chilly climate. He wanted a yr and a half to really feel totally recovered, he mentioned, and by then he was an afterthought in the majors.
Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of Tejada’s final main league sport, with the Orioles. Of all the groups that might have welcomed him again, the Mets suited him finest.
“This is the organization where I’ve been born,” Tejada mentioned. “They give me the opportunity the first time, and finally I’m back here to do my job.”
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