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Mets can’t overcome Cardinals’ six-run sixth in loss

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler walks

New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler walks to the dugout after being taken out of the game during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in an MLB game at Citi Field on Monday, July 17, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Circumstance has forced the Mets into a period of transition in which the pure act of simply trying to win on any given night has been steadily replaced by something far less clear-cut. Increasingly, it’s become about showcasing the players who could be moved by the trade deadline and evaluating which ones warrant sticking around for the long term.

It is not what the Mets planned for at the start of this season of expectations. But in a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals last night, it became that much clearer that this is the scenario they face.

Zack Wheeler faded, allowing four runs and seven hits in 5 1⁄3 innings. He hasn’t won since May 20. Hansel Robles surrendered a three-run homer in his return from a six-week stint in the minors.

And the Mets (41-49) tumbled to 10 1⁄2 games out of the second wild-card spot, providing general manager Sandy Alderson ample reason to begin breaking apart a team that could not stay healthy enough to compete.

“You certainly can’t go on a run if you can’t get consistent pitching,” Terry Collins said.

According to a source, closer Addison Reed continues to generate heavy trade interest in the days leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. The Mets remain open to moving their other veterans on expiring deals. On that front, last night offered some semblance of success.

With rival scouts sitting clipboard to clipboard in the stands, Lucas Duda hit his 16th homer and Jay Bruce logged a multihit game. Both are candidates to be traded. But when it came to giving Alderson a reason to hold off on the sale, the Mets again fell short.

Michael Conforto broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth inning, lifting his 16th homer to right-center. But the 1-0 lead was short-lived. The Cardinals exploded for a six-run sixth, knocking out Wheeler and punishing the Mets’ leaky bullpen.

An inning earlier, Wheeler (3-7, 4.98) survived a sudden bout with his control. With two outs in the fifth, he walked three batters before getting Jedd Gyorko to line out. But in the sixth, there would be no escape act.

After the plodding Yadier Molina legged out a hit, newly minted Mets-killer Paul DeJong pounced on a fastball, hammering a two-run shot to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. The rookie became the first Cardinal ever to homer in four straight games against the Mets.

Three batters later, Wheeler was finished, pulled from the game after his Cardinals counterpart, Adam Wainwright, drilled a run-scoring double to right-center to make it 3-1. The bullpen provided little relief.

“It’s my fault,” Wheeler said. “I should have made my pitches and gotten out of that.”

Lefty Josh Edgin walked his only batter, Matt Carpenter. In came Robles, hoping to prove he had been straightened out by his demotion to the minors. The Mets hoped he would use the time to mentally readjust after a stretch in which his ERA skyrocketed to 6.23. Instead, he initially struggled at Triple-A Las Vegas before posting scoreless outings in seven of his last eight appearances to earn his promotion back to the big leagues.

His welcome was harsh. Within moments, Robles found himself repeating what has become a noticeable habit, pointing toward the sky as if to direct infielders toward pop-ups on balls that have been crushed for homers. This time it was Tommy Pham who provided the rude greeting, pounding a three-run shot. Robles pointed, Pham jogged and the Mets suddenly stared at a five-run deficit.

The Mets pulled within three in the sixth, when Duda homered and Jose Reyes doubled and scored on the same play on a pair of errors by rightfielder Magneuris Sierra.

But the rally proved to be only cosmetic. In the ninth, Yoenis Cespedes came up as the tying run. Green-lighted on a 3-and-0 count with two men on, he hit into a game-ending double play.

“It’s got to be his pitch,” Collins said. “He’s the home run hitter, the big guy on our team. You got him in a great count. You’ve got to get something good to hit. He just didn’t hit it.”

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