CHICAGO - Jacob deGrom looked up to the heavens and exhaled. He let out a deep breath. The blitz was on.
After just four batters last night, the dark reality had already descended upon the Mets right righthander.
"It boils down to location," deGrom said after the Mets' 4-3 loss to the Cubs. "Tonight I struggled with it . . . I wasn't really locating anything."
Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo bashed back-to-back homers in the first inning off deGrom, who was chased after allowing four runs in five innings.
The Mets later countered with back-to-back homers of their own, by Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores, which cut the deficit to one.
But bad luck spoiled their chances at a late comeback.
In the eighth, Duda lined into a double play, ripping what should have been a sure double into Rizzo's mitt at first base.
In the ninth, with a runner on first, Dilson Herrera crushed a liner that appeared to be by shortstop Starlin Castro. But Castro made a diving stab to snare it, another gut punch for the Mets.
For the sixth time in eight games, the Mets scored three runs or less, not enough against the Cubs.
"That's a part of the game," manager Terry Collins said. "We swung the bats very good at the end of the game. That's all you can do is try to hit the ball."
Adding to the frustration, reliever Buddy Carlyle felt tightness in his back after covering first base. The Mets won't know his status until today.
Much of the hype entering this four-game series centered on how the two NL stalwarts have turned their fortunes.
The Cubs loaded up on dangerous young bats, a group that is anchored by the likes of Bryant, Rizzo and Jorge Soler. The Mets have rebuilt behind their stable of young arms.
To open the series, the Mets sent out deGrom. Today, they will follow with top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard in his big-league debut. Tomorrow, ace Matt Harvey takes the mound in a nationally televised contest.
"I'm eager to see it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, before his team seized Round 1.
They did it by punishing deGrom, the reigning NL rookie of the year, who has endured what might become a sophomore slump. He fell to 3-4 and watched his ERA rise to 3.46.
Once more, he fell victim to the long ball. Last year, deGrom allowed seven homers in 140 1/3 innings. This year, he had given up six in his first 37 2/3.
By the fifth inning, he was done, chased after 97 pitches. His command betrayed him as he walked a season-high four batters. "That is not him," Collins said.
Typically unflappable, deGrom found himself on the ropes from the start. Trouble began immediately when he plunked leadoff man Dexter Fowler on a pitch that ran inside. Bryant made him pay, swatting a 94 mph fastball for a two-run homer that landed in the newly reopened leftfield bleachers at the renovated Wrigley Field.
One pitch later, Rizzo pulled another wayward fastball into the wooden planks that eventually will become the new rightfield bleachers.
After deGrom walked Soler on a pitch that wasn't close, Murphy jogged out for a mound conference. Exasperated, the pitcher turned and exhaled.
He was in for a long night.
"Everybody has these starts," deGrom said. "It's not like it's the first time it's happened to me. So it's one of those you forget."