ST. LOUIS -- Mets general manager Sandy Alderson took to the airwaves Monday for what morphed into a State of the Franchise address. He acknowledged his team's abysmal play in virtual every facet of the game, and reminded listeners on WFAN radio that he must "suffer through these games, too."
"I'm not sure things can devolve any further," Alderson said, hours before the Mets seemed to dispute that notion in a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals.
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Earlier in the day, Alderson took a flier on 33-year-old Rick Ankiel, signing the recently released pitcher-turned-outfielder in hopes of bolstering the Mets' outfield. But playing in his Mets debut, Ankiel misplayed a ball in centerfield, allowing the Cards to seize command of what had been a tie game in the seventh.
The Mets were dealt another blow after the game, when overtaxed reliever Scott Atchison reported feeling numbness and tingling in his right hand, which he believed to be related to a nerve injury in his elbow that cost him time last season.
"It's kind of hard when you can't feel the baseball to do what I want to do," said Atchison, who surrendered Matt Holliday's two-run homer in the seventh.
The Mets showcased the deficiencies that Alderson discussed only hours before. Starter Jeremy Hefner steadied himself after a rough beginning, allowing three runs in six innings. But the languishing offense offered little support and Atchison's injury typified a bullpen that is already cracking under the weight of a heavy workload.
Despite a three-run second inning, created in part by former Met Carlos Beltran's misplay in rightfield, the Mets had just four hits and failed to threaten again. The slumping Daniel Murphy had three hits. Ike Davis and Lucas Duda had none.
"We aren't scoring," manager Terry Collins said as the Mets (14-21) tumbled to a season-worst seven games under .500.
The Mets hope that Ankiel will help spark some offensive production from the outfield. He was hitting just .194 with 11 RBIs in 25 games -- including a stunning 25 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances -- before he was released by Houston.
Nevertheless, the Mets will use the lefty-hitting Ankiel, who went 0-for-3 last night with two strikeouts and a walk, as part of a platoon in centerfield with Juan Lagares.
"Maybe a change of scenery right now is good for him to get him going," Collins said. "Certainly, his bat can be dangerous at times so we're anxious to get him in the lineup."
While Ankiel's offense remains a matter of question, two rival talent evaluators went along with the Mets' belief that he still brings above-average range on defense.
But of course, with the Mets these days, even sound plans have a way of backfiring. In the seventh, Ankiel's misplay on Ty Wigginton's fly ball to center opened the door for the Cardinals' rally. "If I can put a glove on it, then I should catch it," said Ankiel, the former Cards star who received a warm ovation.
With the score tied at 3, Ankiel misread Wigginton's ball off the bat, then dived only to watch the ball pop out of his glove. Matt Carpenter supplied the go-ahead run when his comebacker glanced off the foot of lefty reliever Scott Rice and bounced all the way into foul ground down the first-base line. When catcher John Buck gave chase, leaving home plate unguarded, Wigginton scored all the way from second base.
With that, the Mets and their flawed roster let another close game turn into a decisive loss.
"We're in them," Collins said. "We just can't finish them off."