Bartolo Colon struggles early, Mets denied four-game sweep of Braves

It is one thing to assess the Mets' various foibles, quite another to mitigate the risks of navigating their way through a major-league season.

They are 42-50 after the Atlanta Braves, with a 3-1 victory Thursday night, reminded that this process isn't just about the Mets. Whether they are incapable of sustaining occasional bursts of success has to do with their opponents.

Tribute had to be paid to the Atlanta batters, who slapped around Mets starter Bartolo Colon (8-8, 3.99) for nine of his 10 hits and all three runs in the first four innings on their way to halting the Mets' season-best four-game winning streak.

"Sometimes," Travis d'Arnaud said, "you've got to tip your cap to the other team."

Colon, who allowed four first-inning runs in his previous start, surrendered two Thursday night on Andrelton Simmons' single, Freddie Freeman's double and Jason Heyward's single.

"I know tried to have him throw more pitches in the pen" before the game, manager Terry Collins said of Colon. "I'm not sure he has a true feel for his off-speed stuff in the first inning.

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"We've certainly searched and searched and charted it, and haven't come up with the answer."

D'Arnaud said Colon was "just leaving certain pitches over the heart of the plate before he got the feel" in the later innings. Colon, through a translator, acknowledged that he is "just having a little trouble. I have to keep working harder to get through that."

By the fifth, he had settled down, allowing only one more hit. In eight innings, he did not walk a man and struck out seven.

But the damage was done, and two possible Mets offensive uprisings were put down -- the first by winner Aaron Harang (9-6, 3.53) in the fifth and the second by closer Craig Kimbrel with two outs in the eighth.

Harang, who on April 18 no-hit the Mets through seven innings, allowed four hits, walked four and struck out two. After Daniel Murphy's single and walks to David Wright and Lucas Duda loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, Harang got d'Arnaud to fly out.

Wright walked and d'Arnaud singled off Jordan Walden in the eighth, but Kimbrel struck out pinch hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis to put out that fire.

Collins once again went against baseball etiquette by batting Colon eighth so Eric Young Jr. could be "a second leadoff hitter" in the No. 9 spot, "because Eric Young is a get-on-base kind of guy who can create runs for you."

Sure enough, Young led off the third with a single, stole second and scored on Wright's single -- his 11th RBI in his past 15 games. But in two more leadoff at-bats, Young grounded out.

"I know what our record is," Collins said. "I understand what the perception is, that we aren't very good. I disagree with that.

"Tonight we didn't get the big hit. You don't like to lose, but as I continue to say: It's the big leagues."

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That four-game streak, then, couldn't prove the Mets have turned any corners. But Collins' argument is that, through thin and thinner, the Mets "compete. I don't care who we're playing, we compete."

In baseball, he reminded, "There are no constants. We've gone through some rough times and things we're unhappy about. What you've got to do is keep plugging along."

It's not over until . . .

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