In the top of the sixth inning at Citi Field on Tuesday, the massive centerfield scoreboard suddenly malfunctioned.
Instead of a screen full of information on the current batter and the linescore and such, all that appeared was a giant Tampa Bay Rays logo. Passing planes or maybe even spaceships would have easily identified what it was.
The temporary scoreboard snafu was only fitting: The game to that point had been all Tampa Bay. In a big way.
The Rays had knocked out Mets co-ace Justin Verlander an inning earlier en route to an 8-5 victory before an annoyed crowd of 28,296.
Verlander (five innings, six runs, two Isaac Paredes home runs) probably pictured a thousand different ways his first home start as a Met could have gone.
None of them likely included Verlander getting booed lustily after the final out of his final inning.
But that’s exactly what happened as Verlander headed to the dugout after catching a throw from Pete Alonso at first base to end the fifth.
To be fair, Verlander’s Mets home debut was extremely jeer-worthy.
Paredes tagged Verlander (1-2, 4.76 ERA) for a three-run blast in the third to give the Rays a 3-0 lead, and a two-run shot in the fifth to make it 6-0.
Overall, Verlander allowed eight hits, walked two and struck out three in his third outing since signing a two-year, $86-million contract with the Mets.
"It was a tough one, no doubt about it," Verlander said. "The challenge is that they're not swinging and missing much and you make a mistake, they were able to capitalize on it. Paredes, particularly, lifted a couple to leftfield that unfortunately snuck out. Just challenging. Not a great day overall."
The Rays improved to an MLB-best 32-11. The Mets, who have lost three of four and 10 of 14, fell to 20-23.
The Mets just lost nine of 13 in a stretch of games against Detroit, Colorado, Cincinnati and Washington – not the strongest teams.
Before this game, manager Buck Showalter said that perhaps stepping up in competition against Tampa Bay would be good for the Mets.
“We're playing one of the best teams — if not the [best team] — in baseball,” he said. “They’re leading the league in everything. So a good place for us to start playing better, too, against a really, really good club.”
It turned out to be wishful thinking.
The game was scoreless with two outs in the third when Paredes hammered a 3-and-2 curveball just over the leftfield fence and off the back wall for a three-run homer.
The pitch Verlander threw was a hanger for the ages. Crush me, it begged, and Paredes obliged.
Tampa Bay scored another two-out run in the fourth when Harold Ramirez lined a single to right to score Christian Bethancourt, who had one-hopped the right-centerfield wall with a double two batters earlier.
Paredes made it 6-0 in the fifth with a two-run shot off the foul pole in left.
The Mets, meanwhile, were doing little with lefthanded opener Jalen Beeks (two scoreless innings) and righthanded bulk man Yonny Chirinos.
Francisco Lindor had an infield single in the first. That was the only Mets baserunner until Brett Baty hit a solo shot, his third homer of the season, in the fifth to make it 6-1.
Jose Siri answered with a solo homer off Dominic Leone in the sixth. Pete Alonso made it 7-3 with a two-run shot off Chirinos in the seventh. Alonso’s 14th home run tied him for the major-league lead with Max Muncy of the Dodgers.
Ramirez had an RBI single in the eighth for Tampa Bay. Eduardo Escobar added a two-run pinch-hit homer in the ninth for the Mets.
"I understand the fans are frustrated," Verlander said. "We're frustrated, too. Everybody's frustrated. We expect to be better. I expect to be better. I think this entire organization expects to be better. There's only one thing left to do and that's put your head down, work hard, and find your way out of this slump. I was hoping that today I could be the catalyst and go and have a great start against a good team and help us win, and I wasn't able to do that."