When it was over at Citi Field on Sunday — after another bullpen breakdown squandered an early lead and led to a second straight loss — the Mets were left to consider the longest nine-inning game in team history.
It had taken them 4 hours 29 minutes to fall, 10-7, to the Philadelphia Phillies. A wild throw, an intentional walk and another home run by Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco — his seventh against the Mets this season — led to the defeat.
For Mets Manager Mickey Callaway, it was all too familiar.
“He goes up to the plate every time against us probably thinking he’s going to hit a home run,” Callaway said.
But Franco is far from the only one comfortable taking swings at offerings from the Mets’ bullpen. The relievers continue to struggle down the stretch, and the club’s playoff hopes fade with each loss.
All in all, it was a lost weekend against a fellow wild-card contender, one more missed opportunity to gain ground on the Chicago Cubs, who lost three straight games over the weekend. Though they remain four games back of the second wild card in the National League, the Mets (72-70) also know there are only 20 games left in the regular season. Time is short.
“It has been crunchtime for the last month, month and a half, for us,” the starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard said after lasting just five innings and throwing 78 pitches. “With these losses, it just makes it harder to dig ourselves out of this hole.”
Having fallen farther behind the Phillies (74-68), they will have to regroup quickly against one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered Monday a game and a half out of a wild-card spot after winning 11 of their last 13. After a four-game series at Citi Field against Arizona, it will only get tougher as the Los Angeles Dodgers (93-52) come to town over the weekend.
“We can’t change anything now,” outfielder Michael Conforto said. “All we can do is look forward.”
There were plenty of missed opportunities from the weekend in their wake. In the bottom of the first inning on Sunday, Wilson Ramos and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back homers to provide Syndergaard with a 3-0 lead, but he failed to make it to the sixth inning as he surrendered runs in three straight innings. With the score tied at 4-4 and the bases loaded, Callaway pinch-hit for Syndergaard in the bottom of the fifth with the veteran Todd Frazier, who proceeded to strike out swinging, adding to the team’s eventual total of 14 runners stranded on base. Callaway’s relievers then allowed six more runs.
“You’ve got to try to take the lead right there,” Callaway said when asked about his decision to remove Syndergaard.
No Phillie has had a better time against the Mets than Franco. In 92 games against the rest of the majors, he has hit nine home runs. In 15 games against the Mets, he has seven. His play has been so inconsistent that the Phillies demoted him to the minors recently, but Manager Gabe Kapler made sure to have Franco in the lineup Sunday. His two-run home run in the sixth reached the second deck in left.
“The kid was in the minor leagues till a few days ago, for obvious reasons,” Callaway said. “The confidence for him is so high against our team.”
A fan threw Franco’s home run ball back onto the field, but there was no turning back for the Mets. Kapler outmaneuvered Callaway in a September game that featured the clubs using a total of 39 players, including eight pitchers each.
When asked whether he would miss these types of contests next season when rosters will be limited to 28 players instead of the 40-man outfits that are now allowed, Callaway answered quickly.
“No,” he said.
The Mets’ parade of relievers, though, was unable to hold off the Phillies, who added three more runs in the seventh. Center fielder Scott Kingery started it off by stroking a two-run homer to left, and Mets reliever Tyler Bashlor then entered the game. He walked the first batter he faced, watched Franco line a double off the wall in center and issued an intentional walk to Andrew Knapp. Into the batter’s box stepped pinch-hitter Bryce Harper, who drew a walk to force in a run.
“Our bullpen had a rough night,” Callaway said.
Conforto was one of the last Mets to leave the clubhouse afterward. He had come to the plate as the potential tying run in the bottom of the ninth, but made the last out of the game when he hit a grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura.
Standing in front of his locker, Conforto wore a black hat with “Positive Vibes” emblazoned on the front. He insisted that while the Mets had failed to do enough to beat the Phillies, they needed to train their attention on the Diamondbacks as they chase that far-off playoff berth.
“We’re focused on tomorrow,” he said.