There are brutal losses — tough one-run games, bad injuries, the dreaded extra-inning walk-off — and then there was the cataclysm of events that greeted the Mets on Saturday night at Citi Field.
It wasn’t only that the Mets are in do-or-die territory (they might as well rent out a house there), and it wasn’t necessarily that they wasted a gritty performance by Jacob deGrom (that has happened with unnerving regularity).
No, the real pain came with the opportunities they squandered against the Dodgers, including prime ones in the fifth and seventh. It was in how Matt Kemp hit a spirit-crushing grand slam in the eighth. And it was in the fact that this 8-3 loss put them a season-worst 12 games under .500 a day after their general manager said this stretch will define whether the Mets are sellers at the trade deadline.
By the time more bad news hit after the game — Jason Vargas suffered a calf strain during a conditioning session and will go on the disabled list — “brutal” seemed like too soft a word.
“It’s tough. It’s tough right now,” Brandon Nimmo said. “Everyone is out here battling and trying to win . . . It definitely does [test my optimism] when you see your friends . . . struggling and they want it so bad and things just aren’t going [their way].”
Let’s start at the end, which, for all intents and purposes, was when Kemp rounded the bases with three Dodgers in front of him.
The Dodgers, leading 3-2 going into the eighth, scored five runs against Robert Gsellman in that inning. Cody Bellinger led off with a single and Yasiel Puig followed with a liner to center that appeared catchable but was misjudged by Conforto (Puig was called out trying to stretch it into a double). An intentional walk put runners at the corners and Enrique Hernandez’s squeeze drove in Bellinger. Chase Utley singled and Kemp, pinch hitting, hit his 13th home run to make it 8-2.
“It was just up in the zone a little bit,” Mickey Callaway said of the two-seam fastball. “He’s a guy who relies on his sinker and he’s not getting his sinker down when he needs to get it.”
That wayward sinker capped a night of frustration and futility. The Mets wasted a two-on, none-out situation in the fifth and a one-out triple by Nimmo in the seventh.
DeGrom, who acknowledged having far from his best stuff (“I had one pitch, a fastball that I couldn’t locate, and the others were garbage,” he said), kept the Mets in it. It wasn’t particularly easy, though.
DeGrom (5-3), who went into Saturday having given up one earned run or fewer in 10 of his previous 11 starts, matched that quota two batters in on Max Muncy’s homer to the upper deck in right.
The Mets tied it in the second when Conforto and Jose Bautista laced back-to-back doubles against Clayton Kershaw, pitching for the first time since injuring his back May 31. (Bautista, who has reached base in nine straight games, also hit a solo homer in the eighth.)
Wilmer Flores had an RBI single in the third to make it 2-1. But DeGrom allowed a two-run double to pinch hitter Chris Taylor in the fourth that gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead.
“I think it’s been the same the whole year,” Callaway said. “These guys come to play every day and we’re in every game and we were in this game right until the very end.”