Mickey Callaway took a calculated risk Friday night, calling out his team privately and then publicly for a lack of fundamental baseball. The Mets’ prolonged poor play was reason enough to diverge from his norm in an effort to pull the team out of its all-encompassing stink.
Then his team responded to his words with two rough losses.
On Sunday — after a 5-hour game Saturday night in which they allowed six runs in the 14th inning — they dropped a 2-0 decision to the Cubs in which they were held hitless into the sixth and allowed runs on a steal of home and a sacrifice fly to the second baseman.
Yes, a sacrifice fly to the second baseman.
The Mets aren’t enjoying themselves.
“It is not fun playing like this,” Jay Bruce said. “No one in here is happy with the way we’re playing, obviously.”
The Cubs swept the four-game series from the Mets, who have lost 11 of their past 14 games and have gone 16-29 since their 11-1 start. They have scored one run in 24 innings dating to Friday.
At a time when the rotation has been among the best in baseball — posting a 2.48 ERA in the past 16 games — the Mets (27-30) are freefalling thanks to an unreliable offense and unstable bullpen. This time, though, it was those darn fundamentals that bit them again.
Sunday’s game was scoreless until Javier Baez stole home in the seventh. Pitching from the stretch with Baez on third, catcher Willson Contreras on first and none out, Matz had his back to Baez, and as soon as he lifted his right leg to flip a throw to first, Baez broke for the plate. He easily beat Adrian Gonzalez’s throw home with a headfirst slide, as Kevin Plawecki didn’t even bother to apply a tag.
Callaway said Matz’s pickoffs need to be thrown harder, which can be more difficult than it looks. “He’s actually throwing over there harder than he has in the past, but it’s still pretty slow and I think they took advantage of that,” Callaway said.
Matz, who picked off Ian Happ at first base in the second, said: “Honestly, [throwing harder] is completely out of my mind . . . I got a guy on first base, I’m not trying to snap it over there and throw it away. So it was really out of my mind. I should have been more aware.”
Moments later, Ben Zobrist sent a pop-up to shallow rightfield. Second baseman Luis Guillorme backpedaled and turned at the last moment to make a back-to-the-plate catch, with rightfielder Bruce nearby. Contreras tagged up and scored with a headfirst slide as Plawecki caught Guillorme’s throw well in front of the plate. Had Bruce caught it, Contreras likely would not have attempted to score.
The outfielder has the right of way on that play. Bruce said he thought Guillorme was camped under it — as opposed to still drifting backward — so he backed off and began monitoring the baserunner, telling Guillorme that Contreras was headed home.
“A lot of times nowadays for whatever reason, when the infielder is underneath the ball, the guy that has priority doesn’t come and catch it,” Callaway said. “You’re seeing that more and more. I still don’t understand.”
Said Bruce: “We’re trained as outfielders to, once we feel like the other person is underneath the ball, kind of become the eyes for them when it comes to the runner. That’s a play I have to do a better job on.”
The Mets, who have performed poorly against lefthanded pitchers this year, had five lefthanded hitters in their lineup against one of baseball’s best southpaws, Jon Lester. He tossed seven innings, striking out seven and walking three, and didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth. Plawecki, batting cleanup, singled on a hard grounder off shortstop Baez’s glove. “With who we have out [injured], our lineup is not built to face a lefthanded pitcher,” Callaway said.
Matz pitched well but suffered from those flubs in the seventh. He allowed two runs in seven innings — his longest outing in 11 months — and struck out seven.
The pitching was there. The hitting wasn’t.
“More of the same,” Brandon Nimmo said.
Callaway suggested the fundamental issues stem from a lack of focus.
“You practice it all the time, you stress it all the time,” he said. “And it just doesn’t happen.”
Broom & doom
The Mets’ bats couldn’t back up solid starting pitching during a four-game sweep to the Cubs.
Runs Cubs 21 Mets 6
Hits Cubs 50 Mets 20
Also: Mets have lost 11 of 14, outscored 77-50