MILWAUKEE — In the biggest moment of a tight, important game, Drew Smith jogged in from the bullpen to a bases-loaded, two-out jam, about to face a major-league hitter for the first time in nearly two months — a tough ask from manager Buck Showalter, who wanted Smith to pitch in this contest and felt he had little other option in this spot given other relievers’ recent workloads.
And then the tight game wasn’t tight anymore. Smith’s first batter, pinch-hitter Mike Brosseau, blasted a grand slam to leftfield, blowing open in the seventh inning what became the Mets’ 6-0 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday.
That marked the end of their six-game winning streak, as well as a missed opportunity to gain ground in the standings on second-place Atlanta. It lost for the first time in a week earlier in the day.
The Mets’ lead in the NL East remained at one game heading into their off day Thursday. For close to three weeks, their standings status has stayed in a small window, ranging from a 1 1/2-game advantage to a half-game deficit.
“Oh, the Braves lost?” Mark Canha said, seemingly genuinely. “What did we both have, rattled off a bunch in a row there? This is kinda weird the way it’s been happening the last couple of weeks. This is going to be a grind till the end. We all know that.”
The Mets (95-56) trailed by one entering the bottom of the seventh, but after Taijuan Walker allowed the first three batters to reach base — walk, hard single, soft single to score a run — Showalter turned to the bullpen. First up was lefthander David Peterson, who retired both of his hitters (with a third getting intentionally walked). Then Smith entered.
Prior to returning from the injured list Tuesday, Smith had been out with a strained right lat since late July. He completed a routine minor-league rehab assignment. His pitches felt sharper then than they did before he got hurt, he said, “reminiscent of earlier in the year” — like when he earned his way into Showalter’s late-inning circle of trust.
But there is no simulating this type of environment, Smith acknowledged. The majors are not the minors. The Brewers are not the Buffalo Bisons.
Smith’s fifth pitch, an 0-and-2 slider, was over the middle of the plate. Brosseau eked it out to left, easily over the glove of the wall-climbing Jeff McNeil. Walker was charged with two runs, Peterson one, Smith one.
“It’s tough, but that’s the life of a reliever,” he said. “It’s tough, but that’s the life of a reliever.”
That turned a winnable game into a blowout. Adam Ottavino was unavailable, Showalter said, after pitching the past two days. He preferred not to use Seth Lugo, especially if the Mets were behind. And he didn’t want to put Trevor May on the mound for a second day in a row.
Thus, Smith was welcomed back.
“Drew’s only going to get better and better as we get him opportunities,” Showalter said.
The manager put the emphasis on the lineup, which totaled four hits. Righthander Adrian Sampson tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Five relievers finished it off for Milwaukee (79-70).
“Regardless of how many we gave up and how we gave them up, we didn’t do much offensively,” Showalter said. “You don’t score any runs, you’re not going to win.”
Walker finished with a line — six innings, four runs — that belied his effectiveness for most of the outing. He carried an efficient shutout into the sixth inning and a one-run gem into the seventh. He had thrown only 80 pitches before the Brewers strung together a walk and a pair of singles.
“The most frustrating thing was the walk,” he said. “I can’t walk people right there. I have to be aggressive and attack like I was doing all day. They got a ground ball and a bloop shot and I put the bullpen in a tough spot.”