After their franchise-record 12-2 start to this season, the Mets have lost six of the past nine games, largely because of inconsistent pitching. On Thursday, that trend continued in a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 13 innings.
Sure, the Mets’ missed some opportunities — notably with the bases loaded in the 10th inning — but it did hand the bullpen a one-run lead in that frame. But after Jeurys Familia allowed a tying run in the bottom half, Paul Sewald, a revelation early this season for his stout work, allowed a walk and two singles, including a walk-off single to right field by Dexter Fowler in the decisive 13th inning.
The Mets’ defense undermined the best game of the season for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. He fired seven and one-third innings, allowing two runs, only one of them earned. He struck out seven and walked none. Most of the contact against him was weak.
“It’s disappointing when we had a lead like that and the way Noah pitched,” Sewald said. “So, most of all, we have to clear our heads on this flight.”
But before the Mets headed to San Diego to continue their road trip, Manager Mickey Callaway vowed that the team’s uneven pitching would end — though some of them could fall on a drop-off in production from some of the team’s best hitters, such as Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce.
“It would be frustrating if we weren’t where we’re at in the standings,” said Callaway, whose team sits atop the National League East with a 15-8 record. “We’re still in a pretty good spot. What has happened in the last week and a half is not going to continue to happen.
Defensive miscues also cost Callaway’s team on Thursday. With the Mets leading 2-0 in the seventh inning, Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham hit a fly ball down the left field line. Cespedes slid under the ball, but it popped out of his glove. Pham scored two batters later when Marcell Ozuna singled.
After third baseman Todd Frazier could not reach Paul DeJong’s double two batters later, Syndergaard managed to escape.
An inning later, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario misplayed a grounder hit by Greg Garcia, who moved to third on a single by Matt Carpenter and then tied the game on another single by Pham off the first pitch he saw from Mets relief pitcher Robert Gsellman.
“It wasn’t really about defense — just balls out of reach, by a hair,” Callaway said.
The Mets appeared to patch it all up when they took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th inning. Singles by Bruce and Frazier and walks by Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Lobaton — neither of whom swung the bat against Luke Gregerson — combined for a run.
But in the bottom of the inning, the Mets could not close out the game. With two outs, Pham singled. Then Jose Martinez, the journeyman minor leaguer who now anchors the middle of the Cardinals’ order, smacked a low 96-mile-per-hour sinker deep to center field off Familia. It was Familia’s third blown save during this span of losses.
Juan Lagares, who had been called into center field to help protect the lead, raced back, jumped and missed the ball in the afternoon sun. The ball bounced off the wall, allowing Pham to tie the game.
“I did my best to try, but he crushed it,” Lagares said. Even without losing the ball in the daylight, he said, he had “no chance.”
Three innings later, Sewald was on the mound for his second inning of work. The margin for error was slim, and he walked Martinez, allowed a single to Ozuna and then the deciding hit to Fowler, and the Mets continued their road trip carrying yet another defeat.