Even with a lead, it felt inevitable.
Justin Verlander danced in and out of trouble, his pitch count sometimes feeling like a more pressing concern than the number of Brewers who managed to get on base. The bullpen door was forced to swing open earlier than was ideal — and within minutes, Drew Smith was looking toward the centerfield wall and Brandon Nimmo was letting out an exasperated sigh.
The Mets: poisoned by their pen again. And unlike their Sunday disaster against the Phillies, this time their offense did little to shoulder the burden.
A day after a pair of rookies coughed up an eighth-inning lead, the Mets again were victimized by their relievers. This time Smith, newly reinstated from his 10-game sticky-stuff suspension, allowed a two-out, two-run homer by Joey Wiemer in the sixth inning of the Mets’ 2-1 loss to the generally toothless Brewers on Monday at Citi Field.
“The pitch before, he swung through, and I was trying to throw the same pitch a little higher and I kind of yanked it down a little bit,” Smith said. “I felt good. I thought a lot of my misses — I couldn’t tell out there if they were strikes or balls. but they were just barely off.”
Smith has an 8.71 ERA in his last 12 appearances and struggled with both slider and fastball location. He got away with a hanging slider on his first pitch to Wiemer, and the 422-foot homer to straightaway center was on a 96.3-mph fastball right down the middle.
Even with the Mets nursing only a 1-0 lead, the game was more than winnable: The Brewers have the lowest OPS in the National League and have scored the fewest road runs in the NL to boot.
The Mets, well on the brink of irrelevancy before the All-Star break, lost for the 16th time in their last 21 games, dropped to a season-worst eight games under .500 and look utterly lifeless — even as Verlander gritted his way through a stressful but scoreless five-inning performance.
The Mets had three singles against Colin Rea and three relievers and didn’t have a baserunner in the final 3 2⁄3 innings.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Buck Showalter said. “Three hits, it’s kind of tough. We pitched pretty well, all things considered. You’d like to take advantage of that, but we didn’t.”
Things don’t look to be getting any better, either. They’ll have to tap David Peterson for Tuesday night’s start despite his well-documented struggles. He posted an 8.08 ERA in eight starts for the Mets this season and had a 6.00 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse, with opposing hitters batting .292 with an .883 OPS in his five starts.
With Jose Quintana (rib) potentially needing two more rehab appearances to get built up, it’s equally possible that Peterson’s stay in Flushing will be somewhat extended: two starts, or even three.
The Mets didn’t get a hit off Rea until the fourth, but they made it count.
Startling Marte led off with a single and, with Francisco Lindor at the plate, stole second. When the throw skittered away, Marte made it to third and even contemplated trying to score when Wiemer’s throw went way over Luis Urias’ head (the ball ricocheted off the visiting dugout and back toward William Contreras at home too quickly). Lindor then hit a sacrifice fly to deep right for his 53rd RBI, giving the Mets the 1-0 lead.
The Brewers repeatedly threatened against Verlander but failed to break through. Relying more heavily on his changeup, Verlander threw 47 pitches in the first two innings and 100 overall. He allowed five hits, walked five, hit a batter and struck out five. The Brewers, who left 11 men on base in the game, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him.
Then Smith gave up the lead.
“We almost got through it,” Showalter said. “He made a mistake . . . It’s just one pitch. He just hasn’t been able to finish off that clean inning and it seems like he’s right there.”
Even so, the just-misses have added up for Smith and the Mets. On Monday, it equaled another onerous loss in a season quickly getting out of control.