ATLANTA — In the Mets’ stunning return to their first-half form Wednesday, a series of decisions by manager Mickey Callaway — aided by a bit of bad luck — collectively backfired in a 6-4 loss to the Braves.
A testament to the Mets’ recent success: This three-game losing streak is their first since late June, and this clinched series loss is their first since July 18-21 in San Francisco. The Mets (61-59) fell to three games back of a National League wild-card spot, 10 games back of the Braves (72-50) in the NL East.
The Mets loaded the bases with one out in the ninth — with an assist from shortstop Johan Camargo, who bobbled what should have been a game-ending double play — but Wilson Ramos struck out. Former Mets reliever Jerry Blevins entered and struck out Michael Conforto to end it.
“We’re still in a good spot,” Callaway said. “It’s not the end of the world.”
The game turned in the seventh, after Steven Matz, batting for himself, singled to start a two-out, two-run rally that gave the Mets their first lead since Saturday. In the bottom of the inning, Callaway pulled Matz — who had retired 14 batters in a row and thrown only 79 pitches — in favor of Seth Lugo, the Mets’ best reliever.
It didn’t work. Lugo, the NL Reliever of the Month in July, faced seven batters, got one out and allowed five runs, tying his career high as a reliever.
“I’ll make that move 100 times out of 100,” Callaway said. “That’s the right move.”
The plan was to get two innings out of Lugo and go to the struggling Edwin Diaz and/or lefthander Justin Wilson for the ninth. Callaway said Matz running the bases, the middle of Atlanta’s order being due up and having a rested Lugo all factored into the decision. He called Lugo “the best reliever in baseball,” “the best pitcher in baseball for the last month,” “the best reliever in all of baseball” and “our best pitcher overall lately.”
Lugo said he didn’t start warming up until the Mets took the lead. Between J.D. Davis’ two-run single and the end of the inning was only a couple of minutes of an injury delay for Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers and Pete Alonso’s five-pitch flyout.
“The reward is he puts up two zeros, you win the game,” Callaway said, assuming another pitcher would have held Atlanta in the ninth.
Lugo said: “I was loose, I was ready.”
Lugo didn’t get hit hard. He issued a leadoff walk to Josh Donaldson and allowed a firmly struck single by Adam Duvall. Then the dinking-and-dunking carnage began.
Camargo blooped a single to left to load the bases. Ender Inciarte sent a soft line drive to left-center to tie it. On Tyler Flowers’ ground ball about halfway between first and second, first baseman Pete Alonso, perhaps overzealously, reached for it but missed. Lugo didn’t cover first, so second baseman Ruben Tejada didn’t have anybody to throw to. It went down as a go-ahead single for Flowers.
The hardest-hit ball of the inning, Matt Joyce’s 101.5-mph line drive to rightfield, turned into an RBI fielder’s choice when Conforto nearly made a sliding catch and recovered to get a forceout at second. Lugo’s last batter was Ronald Acuna Jr., whose broken-bat liner to right was a single for another run.
That was it for Lugo. Luis Avilan allowed one of his inherited runners to score when Ozzie Albies singled on a grounder through the left side.
Lugo’s ERA jumped from 2.65 to 3.41. His five runs Wednesday equaled as many that he allowed in his previous 20 innings (17 games) dating to June 26.
“I was just unlucky,” Lugo said. “I thought I made a bunch of good pitches. They didn’t really hit anything hard. Little brain fart there not covering first base, but . . . I thought I made good pitches.”
That wasted Matz’s best road start of the year. He allowed one run and two hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one. After Inciarte’s RBI double in the second, the Long Island native didn’t allow another baserunner.
Matz was ready and willing to pitch the seventh. He said he couldn’t remember another instance in which he batted for himself and was pulled before throwing another pitch.
“I felt pretty good, but Lugo’s been really good all year and a couple righties that can do some damage coming up,” Matz said. “That was the manager’s call.”
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