Short four players, Mets can't quite catch Braves

Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese heads to the dugout
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Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese heads to the dugout after giving up two runs to the Atlanta Braves in the top of the eighth inning of a game at Citi Field.(Credit: Errol Anderson)

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The lineup card looked like something out of spring in Port St. Lucie, not summer in New York City. And when Terry Collins was asked why he batted rookie Travis d'Arnaud in the cleanup spot Wednesday night, the Mets manager revealed a hint of resignation.

"Did you look at the whole lineup?" Collins asked before the Mets took a 3-2 loss to the Braves. "Did I have a lot of options?"

He did not. On paper, the Mets roster listed the standard 25 names. But four were crossed off, casualties of nagging injuries that often signal the arrival of September.

Playing shorthanded, the Mets needed every break to go their way.

But they squandered a solid start from Zack Wheeler, handed the Braves a critical freebie when Ruben Tejada botched a routine ground ball, and groaned when Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons saved the game with arguably the best defensive play of the year.

In the eighth, with two outs and the tying run at third, the cleanup man d'Arnaud rolled a grounder to the hole that would have been a game-tying hit against any other shortstop in the game.

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Simmons is not any other shortstop, and he ranged far to his right, lunged at the ball in short leftfield, then leaped so he could unleash a Jeter-esque jump throw. The ball took one hop to nab d'Arnaud.

"I heard like in slo-mo, it looks like he has no chance," said d'Arnaud, who had yet to watch a replay. "Then at the last second, he lunged and reached for it, got it, and just turned around and chucked it. Made a perfect throw."

In the dugout, Collins contemplated a challenge, though he sensed it was futile. Even in real time, Simmons' wizardry had removed any doubt. Said Collins: "I know he's out."

The Mets rallied again in the ninth. But with one out and the tying run on third, Tejada hit a weak grounder to third baseman Phil Gosselin. Playing in, he made a quick throw to the plate, cutting down Eric Campbell as the tying run. Kirk Nieuwenhuis flied out to end it.

That the outcome came down to the ninth seemed unlikely with the Mets forced to go with a skeleton crew for a second straight night. Collins was missing two cogs in his order, David Wright and Daniel Murphy. And in the bullpen, he was again without righty Vic Black and lefty Josh Edgin. None were expected to miss extended time.

Neck discomfort might sideline Black for a few more days, Edgin could be ready to pitch in tonight's series finale after an extra day of rest for his tender left elbow. Murphy, the typically durable second baseman, barely participated in any baseball activity because of tightness in his right calf. Like Black, he's day-to-day.

Wright has been dealing with a neck problem that first popped up Sunday, when he was pulled in the third inning because he could barely turn his neck to face the pitchers.

Before Wednesday night's game, Wright took batting practice both indoors and on the field. He also fielded grounders.

The return to baseball activities signaled a positive step, allowing the Mets to more accurately gauge his readiness.

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