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Bullpen fails again as Mets fall to Padres

New York Mets relief pitcher Josh Smoker watches

New York Mets relief pitcher Josh Smoker watches Hunter Renfroe's home run trot after he hit a solo home run in the eighth inning to give the San Diego Padres a 6-5 lead during an MLB game at Citi Field on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress

Terry Collins likened the criticism to getting slammed in the face by pies, and lately the Mets manager has been a frequent target. A bumpy start to the season has left him with no margin for error, especially when it comes to the management of his burned-out bullpen.

But Wednesday night, in an excruciating 6-5 loss to the woeful Padres, Collins did not help himself when he hastened a late-inning implosion.

The night before, Collins used Jerry Blevins and Paul Sewald in a blowout victory against the Padres. But neither arm was available last night, when Collins needed to get nine outs to protect a two-run lead.

Instead, Neil Ramirez, a scrapheap pickup who had been used in mop-up duty, allowed a two-run single to Wil Myers to tie the score in the seventh. And in the eighth, Hunter Renfroe hit a go-ahead, solo shot that rattled around the empty seats in the upper deck. It came off Josh Smoker, the struggling fresh-from-the-minors lefty whom Mets officials had tagged before the game to make a spot start on Saturday.

“You have to make decisions with what you have,” Collins said, though in his case, he triggered the backlash with his decisions from the day before.

Padres pitchers balked twice, Myers got thrown out trying to steal third with two outs, and Renfroe dropped a fly ball in the eighth. Still, the Mets (19-25) lost despite that parade of mistakes.

To make matters worse, the Mets failed to deliver in the ninth, when the first three batters reached against Brad Hand. But Curtis Granderson and Rene Rivera struck out and Juan Lagares flied out to end it.

The night didn’t start as a mess. Robert Gsellman delivered his first quality start since April 19, a much-needed effort after a run of ineffectiveness landed him in the bullpen. He allowed three runs in six innings, just the Mets’ fifth quality start in May, and the first delivered by someone other than Zack Wheeler or Jacob deGrom.

“I was fine, I felt good,” Gsellman said. “If Terry wanted me to go out for a seventh, I could have. But he’s the manager and he has to make the decisions around here.”

But when Gsellman reached 84 pitches — after his last two appearances came in relief — Collins had seen enough.

“This kid has really been struggling,” Collins said. “At times, you want them to leave with a good feeling, and he gave us the six good innings.”

The bullpen was charged with getting nine outs with the lead intact. They got two.

Fernando Salas, also used in Tuesday’s six-run victory, entered in the seventh. He got two outs before Chase d’Arnaud laced a pinch-hit single. A tiring Salas issued walks to Matt Szczur and Yangervis Solarte to load the bases.

“It may have tired me a little bit but we prepare for this,” said Salas, who has a 5.91 ERA in 24 appearances.

With no margin for error and Salas suddenly laboring, Collins turned to an unlikely choice in Ramirez, a waiver wire pickup who had been cut loose twice this season.

Ramirez’s first two appearances with the Mets came in low-leverage situations — with the Mets ahead by five runs on Saturday and down by seven on Sunday. His ERA at the start of the day was 10.32. Yet, with the bases loaded in a two-run game, Collins went to him, unaware that his last matchup against Myers on April 29 ended in a towering three-run homer. It was Ramirez’s last outing as a member of the Giants.

This time, Myers missed a grand slam by an inch, his drive hitting the top of the wall in right-center. It was a long, two-run single, but enough to tie the game, turning what began as an encouraging night into another bullpen debacle.

Said Collins: “We thought we’d go to a fresh arm and it just didn’t get done.”

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