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Mets fall to Cardinals after Jason Vargas leaves with cramp in left calf

Mets starter Jason Vargas allowed only one hit,

Mets starter Jason Vargas allowed only one hit, a two-run homer by Paul Goldschmidt, through four innings. Vargas left the game with a cramp in his left calf while getting ready to hit in the bottom of the fourth. St. Louis beat the Mets, 4-3, for the third time in the four-game series at Citi Field.   Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jason Vargas, Wilmer Font, Chris Flexen and Brooks Pounders — not quite a who’s who of 2019 Mets pitchers — performed something of a baseball miracle Sunday at Citi Field, holding the Cardinals to three hits.

The Mets lost anyway.

Two of the hits in St. Louis’ 4-3 victory were home runs, by Paul Goldschmidt in the first and Paul DeJong in the eighth, as the Mets lost for the third time in the four-game series.

“I thought we could’ve won three and we had a chance to win four,” said manager Mickey Callaway, whose team blew late leads in the first two games of the series and outhit the Cardinals 10-3 in the finale. “But that’s not what happened, so we’ll accept it and move on, learn from it and go out there in this big series coming up and do better.

“The tale of the game was they were one swing away, we were one swing away. And they made one good swing.”

The Cardinals’ one good swing came from DeJong, who homered off Flexen, making his first appearance since the Mets called him up Saturday.

The organization is intrigued by the idea of Flexen as a reliever, and he recovered to strike out Goldschmidt and Jose Martinez.

But on a day when Callaway was working with a bare-bones bullpen, it was the unproven Flexen who entered in the eighth inning of a tie game.

“He was the next guy that we felt could give us a great inning,” Callaway said. “He threw the ball well. He just fell behind 3-0 to a dangerous hitter and had to throw two strikes. Didn’t execute the slider as well as he’d liked and [DeJong] popped it out of there.”

Said Flexen: “I tried to throw a good slider down and away, I pulled it over the middle and he capitalized.”

Vargas left the game in the fourth with a left hamstring cramp. In the top of the inning, he felt a cramp in his calf, and by the time he stepped to the plate in the bottom half, the sensation had reached his hamstring.

Jacob deGrom drew a pinch-hit walk in his place. Vargas was fine after the game, and neither team nor player was worried that he will have to miss a start.

Vargas allowed three runs (two earned), one hit and three walks in four innings. The lone hit was Goldschmidt’s two-run homer, a 108-mph shot off the facing of the second deck in left-center.

Font lasted three scoreless innings in place of Vargas. Pounders, making his Mets debut, allowed a single by Yadier Molina in a scoreless ninth.

The Mets’ offensive bright spots, including a 2-for-3 day for Dominic Smith as he batted leadoff for the first time in his life, weren’t bright enough.

That leaves the Mets (34-37) still struggling to find any sort of traction in the win column as they head out for a critical 11-game road trip against three playoff contenders: the Braves, Cubs and Phillies. The Mets are 14-23 on the road this season (and 20-14 at home).

“We gotta start winning games and we gotta start now,” Todd Frazier said. “It’s gotta start [Monday].”

By the time the Mets next play at Citi Field, June 28, as they begin their weekend celebration of the 1969 World Series champion Mets,they will have reached the halfway point of their season.

This away stretch can’t make the Mets’ season, but it might be able to break it.

“This is one of the road trips we circle on the calendar,” Smith said. “We know what the Braves are doing, we know what the Phillies are doing and we know the Cubs are a really good team as well. We know this is huge for us. This can get us going in the right direction and we can gain some ground over the next week[-plus].”

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