ATLANTA — For a second time in as many games Tuesday night, the Mets’ depleted lineup managed to do what few other clubs have done lately, drive up the pitch count of one of Atlanta’s highly effective starting pitchers and get him out of the game during or immediately after the fifth inning — and take a lead in the process.
But then they had to face Atlanta’s relief pitchers, also highly effective, and that proved to be far more difficult. The Mets lost, 4-1, after three of them combined for 4 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings, allowing two-run home runs from Matt Olson and Adam Duvall to turn the game.
That cut the Mets’ NL East lead back down to 1 1/2 games heading into the series finale Wednesday.
The middle-and-late-innings trio of Tyler Matzek (four outs), Collin McHugh (six outs) and A.J. Minter (three outs) finished it off. That lowered the bullpen’s ERA to 3.07, the best in the National League. Closer Kenley Jansen (irregular heartbeat) is expected back from the injured list for the series finale Wednesday.
“So proud of the way our hitters grinded [Spencer] Strider. That was what we talked about before what we were going to do,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But the problem is with them their bullpen is so good too, especially with the lineup we had to run out there in order to try to get him out of the game. You make yourself susceptible.”
Francisco Lindor added: “If they execute, they’re very tough. It’s a good bullpen with a lot of experience — or at least the most important experience, which is the playoffs.”
Strider, a mustachioed, flame-throwing rookie righthander, wasn’t as good as he has been. He was working on an inefficient shutout until the end of his outing, when Lindor plated a run with a line drive to right (ruled a triple when Ronald Acuna Jr. whiffed on fielding it and it rolled to the wall).
In 4 2/3 innings, Strider struck out eight, walked three and gave up five hits. His ERA is 2.56.
The other fundamental difference between the Mets (54-34) and Atlanta (53-36) that proved relevant: Atlanta has major power. The Mets don’t.
Atlanta’s .443 slugging percentage is tied (with the Yankees) for best in the majors; the Mets are 13th at .399.
Atlanta’s 136 homers are second most (behind the Yankees) in the majors; the Mets are 19th with 86.
So as the Mets — missing one-third of their regular hitters in Jeff McNeil, Starling Marte and James McCann — toiled, going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and leaving eight runners on base, Atlanta needed just a couple of big swings.
Olson’s blast was a bit of a heartbreaker for lefthander David Peterson, who was working on maybe his best start of the season — a one-hit shutout into the sixth inning — until his last batter. Dansby Swanson had walked after a borderline ball three call, one of several examples of plate umpire Andy Fletcher’s iffy strike zone in both directions. After Olson crushed a long fly ball down the rightfield line, leaving the sold-out Truist Park crowd hanging until it landed just foul, he hammered a fastball 426 feet to center for a sudden Atlanta lead.
Peterson (3.48 ERA) wanted the pitch just above the strike zone and outside. It ended up high in the zone and over the middle of the plate.
“It sucks,” he said. “I missed my spot and he’s a good hitter and he took advantage of it.”
Peterson finished 5 1/3 innings with two runs and two hits allowed, striking out nine and walking three.
“I’m really impressed with the way he’s pitching,” Showalter said.
Seth Lugo gave up Duvall’s long ball in the seventh. That upped his ERA to 3.97.
“They have power and, let’s face it, the 7-8-9 hitters are hitting third and fourth on a lot of clubs,” Showalter said.
Lindor said: “They didn’t have that many people on base, but when they had people on base they scored. That’s the name of the game.”