ATLANTA - With the current state of Mike Pelfrey, maybe it's foolish to think that the Mets can stay in the National League East race. But as bad as Pelfrey was last night, the Mets as a whole looked even worse in an 8-3 loss at Turner Field.
Pelfrey (10-6) allowed eight hits and five runs, including back-to-back homers to the Braves' Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. He was pulled after nailing Matt Diaz to force in a run with two outs in the fifth inning.
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At that point, the Mets trailed only 5-2, but the game got out of hand when they couldn't get a grip on the baseball. In the sixth, the Mets made three errors - by David Wright, Jose Reyes and Ike Davis - that led to two unearned runs.
Melky Cabrera added the finishing touch with a leadoff homer in the eighth to drop the Mets back to .500 (54-54) and 7½ games behind the first-place Braves. To make matters worse, the fading Pelfrey is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in his last seven starts, allowing 62 hits over 30 innings.
The Mets made four errors - two by Reyes - and fell to 4-11 in rubber games this season. They are 6-14 since the All-Star break and 6-17 in their last 23 road games heading into the weekend series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Jerry Manuel joked that he would scare Pelfrey into a good performance by watching him from the top step, a vantage point that suggested he could retrieve his starter at the slightest hint of trouble. But the manager stayed put despite Pelfrey giving up a first-inning run for the 10th time in 11 starts.
With two outs, Pelfrey allowed a single to Jones and an RBI double to McCann. That upped Pelfrey's total to 16 first-inning runs in those 11 starts, and opponents are batting .351 (33-for-94) with nine extra-base hits off him in the first inning.
The Mets fought back to tie it in the second on Luis Castillo's run-scoring single and even took a 2-1 lead in the third. Reyes led off with a double, and after a questionable sacrifice bunt by Angel Pagan, the team's best hitter, Reyes scored on Carlos Beltran's groundout.
But Pelfrey didn't hold the lead for long, serving up back-to-back homers to Jones and McCann with two outs in the third. Despite his problems, he had not allowed a homer since July 5, and the two deep shots were a sign that he again was not right.
The Mets had more at stake than a two-game swing with the Braves. If Pelfrey couldn't reverse his recent troubles, that would be a bad omen.
"It's a big game for us in the sense that if he pitches well, we can still feel good about where our rotation is," Manuel said before the game. "If he struggles, then we've got something sitting out here that we have to be concerned with. We need a good game out of a pitcher we're counting on and depending on down the stretch."
But the Mets didn't get what they had hoped for from Pelfrey. It marked the fifth time in eight starts that he failed to make it through the fifth inning.
Atlanta scored twice in the fifth to take a 5-2 lead. The rally began when Mike Dunn, an emergency replacement for injured starter Kris Medlen, poked a slow roller toward shortstop. The charging Reyes scooped it cleanly on the run before airmailing the throw into the Braves' dugout. That put Dunn at second, and two outs later, Pelfrey walked Jones to set up McCann's RBI double to right.
Manuel called for an intentional walk of Eric Hinske to load the bases, but Pelfrey followed that by drilling Diaz with an 0-and-1 pitch to force in a run. Diaz had barely left the batter's box before Manuel began his purposeful stride to the mound, lifting his left arm for reliever Hisanori Takahashi.