The game within the game Sunday at Citi Field came in the later innings, after starters Noah Syndergaard and Vince Velasquez finished their mediocre afternoons and managers Mickey Callaway and Gabe Kapler had to go to their relievers, who collectively inspire minimal confidence.
Which bullpen would stink less?
The Mets were on the wrong end of that question and the game in a 10-7 loss to the Phillies. The 4-hour, 29-minute slog was the longest nine-inning game in Mets history.
In four innings, seven Mets relievers allowed a combined six runs, seven hits and three walks. In 4 2⁄3 innings, seven Phillies relievers gave up three runs, eight hits and three walks.
“Our bullpen,” Callaway said, “had a rough night.”
Despite dropping the series, the Mets remained four games back of the Cubs for a National League wild card spot with 20 games to go. The Diamondbacks — who visit Queens for a four-game series starting Monday — Brewers and Phillies are all within two games back.
“It’s been crunch time for the last month, month and a half for us,” Syndergaard said. “With these losses, it’s going to be harder to dig ourselves out of that hole.”
The Mets’ pitcher parade began with a fifth-inning decision by Callaway. With the score tied, two outs and the bases loaded, he picked Todd Frazier to pinch hit for Syndergaard. Frazier struck out swinging.
In pulling Syndergaard, Callaway was looking for a lead, albeit while knowing he would need four innings from a bullpen that has struggled lately.
The other option would have been to leave Syndergaard in, likely sacrificing the rally in the hopes of getting another inning or two from Syndergaard — and betting on the offense to score more against a bad Philly bullpen.
“We’re thinking we take the lead, we get the sixth inning out of the way and we go to [Justin] Wilson for one and [Seth] Lugo for two,” Callaway said. “You’re going to win a game if you can get to that seventh inning.”
Syndergaard said: “I get it. It’s a managerial [decision]. I’m not much of a threat offensively, especially with the opportunity to take the lead.”
The Phillies scored three times against Paul Sewald and Luis Avilan in the sixth. Phil Gosselin had a pinch-hit RBI single and Maikel Franco walloped a two-run homer into the second deck in left.
In 15 games against the Mets, Franco has seven homers. In 92 games against everybody else, Franco has nine homers. He has been bad enough overall this year that the Phillies demoted him to the minors last month.
“The kid was in the minor leagues till a few days ago. For obvious reasons,” Callaway said. “The confidence for him is so high against our team . . . He goes up to the plate every time against us probably thinking he’s going to hit a home run.”
The Phillies scored three more runs against Wilson and Tyler Bashlor in the seventh. Wilson was a strike away from ending the inning, but his 30th pitch — and eighth to Scott Kingery — resulted in a two-run homer to left. Bashlor entered, loaded the bases and walked pinch hitter Bryce Harper to force in a run.
Callaway said he chose to intentionally walk Andrew Knapp, bring Harper up with the bases loaded, to force the Phillies to remove reliever Mike Morin from the game. Callaway called Morin, who has a 5.14 ERA in 21 appearances for Philly, “their one quality reliever that they had left other than” closer Hector Neris.
The Mets brought the would-be tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth, but Pete Alonso struck out swinging and Michael Conforto grounded out to end it. They left 14 runners on base and went 3-for-16 with men in scoring position.
“We didn’t do our job today,” Conforto said, rephrasing that sentiment about a team that produced seven runs and 14 hits. “We didn’t do enough to win the ballgame.”