At a critical point in their drive to keep doing better than most people expect, the Mets showed that not everyone on the roster is an overachiever. Mike Pelfrey proved again that not every surprise in the Mets' season is a good one.

This has been Pelfrey's year of underachievement, ever since he accepted the honor of being named the club's Opening Day starter. One problem is that expectations are fairly high for Pelfrey from a team that has about two weeks to determine whether the season is worth salvaging.

A bigger problem is that his pitches are soaring high, too. Occasionally, they wind up flying over the fence, as one pivotal fastball did during an 8-5 loss to the Phillies Sunday at Citi Field.

"I wasn't sharp," said the pitcher who has a 5-9 record and has only two wins in the past two months. "I made a mistake and the guy hit it, his first major-league homer. That was the ballgame for me."

He was referring to the three-run shot by Michael Martinez in the fifth that put the Phillies ahead 4-0 -- a margin that seemed like a mountain, the way Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick was throwing. And Kendrick did more than just throw. He also had two singles, including a rocket up the middle that set up Martinez's blast.

"The pitcher goes 2-for-2 off you, that's unacceptable," said Pelfrey, who gave up four runs and six hits in five innings.

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The timing certainly wasn't all that hot for the Mets, who were hoping to build momentum from a big win over the first-place team Saturday. They probably have only until the July 31 trading deadline to convince management that their undermanned gritty team can make a run at the postseason. Sunday was a stumble, starting with the two-out walk to Chase Utley that resulted in the Phillies' 1-0 lead in the first.

"We just didn't pitch very well today," said Terry Collins, who lifted Pelfrey for a pinch hitter in the fifth. "The thing that's hurt Mike most of all is the long ball and that's uncharacteristic of his history. I didn't want to have to take him out, except we were down 4-0 and we were having trouble scoring.

"I still think he's got to be our guy. He has got a proven track record that he's going to give you a lot of innings and he's going to keep you in games. That's what we need."

Collins thinks Pelfrey might be trying too hard to establish additional pitches, rather than concentrate on the ones he generally throws well. The manager added that the pitcher gets in trouble when he doesn't keep the ball down. Sure enough, the fastball to Martinez was supposed to be down and in, but it stayed up and it went out.

The Mets had other problems, too. Jason Bay has settled back into his offensive doldrums, ending the first and third with groundouts to short and stranding two runners each time. Bay also botched Howard's leadoff fly to left in the eighth, setting the tone for a three-run inning.

"I just missed it," Bay said, declining any excuse or explanation.

Pedro Beato, one of the candidates to replace traded closer Francisco Rodriguez, walked three in that inning.

Despite all of that, and regardless of the Mets' three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth (on Daniel Murphy's double and Lucas Duda's triple), it was Pelfrey who stood out. A top-level pitcher is not supposed to allow two hits to the likes of Kendrick.

"It's the pitcher and it's the last guy you want to walk," Pelfrey said. "I threw a fastball the first time and he hit it right up the middle. I hung a slider the second time and he almost took my head off. It was just bad execution on my part and I had to pay for it."