Plenty of Mets games this year have been worth tossing out, notably the three-touchdown defeat two nights earlier. This one was different. The Mets were competitive against a top team, but they threw it away anyway.
A wild peg from first baseman Wilmer Flores allowed an apparently picked-off runner to reach second and gave the Braves impetus for a three-run burst that produced a 4-2 victory at Citi Field.
So it was another one of those nights for a club that, assistant general manager John Ricco asserted before the game, intends to compete for a playoff berth in 2019. This night, against an ascendant opponent who is contending this year, was a signal of how far they have to go. Especially considering that Ricco said of Flores at first base: “It’s probably his best position right now.”
This was the first appearance for the Mets in New York after their franchise-worst 25-4 loss in Washington Tuesday night, a defeat that provoked a hailstorm of criticism and ridicule on social media and talk radio. “In the middle of the game, I’m right here with them,” Ricco said in the homestand-opening news conference. “It’s frustrating, but it’s another one in a long season. You can’t overreact to it. You try to move on.”
Actually, the Thursday loss to the Braves was more of a reprise of the Wednesday defeat to the Nationals rather than the blowout. It was porous defense, that included a throwing error by Flores, that allowed Washington to pull away in the second game of the series. The misplay Thursday night was not an error, but it was costly.
Starter Jason Vargas, who has had his own throwing woes, allowed a leadoff single to Ronald Acuna Jr. then appeared to have picked off the emerging star. But Flores’ throw to second went wide, allowing Acuna to reach safely. He came home on Freddie Freeman’s one-out single to break a 1-1 tie.
The Braves expanded their lead after the second out, which could have been the third out, as Johan Camargo drove home two with a double to right-centerfield. The three runs in the inning were all earned, but all were avoidable.
“I feel like I’m making good pitches. Sometimes they’re not working out the way you want,” Vargas said after his record dropped to 2-7. “It’s just something we’ve got to deal with. It’s just one of those things.”
Mickey Callaway said Vargas showed some good signs, adding, “He had to get a few more outs than he probably should have.”
Of the game’s pivotal play, the manager said, “The runner just kind of veered off just a tad and was kind of right in Wilmer’s line of sight, so he tried to throw it over the top of him and the throw just got away from him.”
Flores said, “I tried to rush a little bit, it just kind of got away. There’s not much to say.”
The conundrum for the Mets is that Flores (2-for-3) is arguably their best hitter, but he does not have a position. “It has been tough on him. There’s no denying that. I think that right now, his confidence may be a little down at first,” Callaway said, adding that Flores will get a day off Friday.
Flores clearly did not ask for a break, saying, “I don’t know. I’m always ready to play.”
At times Thursday, the Mets showed readiness all over the field. Brandon Nimmo had a home run and a neat diving catch. Reliever Bobby Wahl had an impressive debut (two batters, two outs, one strikeout). The staff retired the final 16 Braves. Yet the final score, for them, was another one worth tossing.