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Bullpen fails to back up Wheeler as Mets fall to Dodgers

Mets relief pitcher Seth Lugo reacts after the

Mets relief pitcher Seth Lugo reacts after the Dodgers score a run during the ninth inning at Citi Field on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Mets were on the brink Sunday night, facing the best team in the National League with the out of town scoreboard blasting bad news all around them. The Cubs won. The Nationals won. The Brewers won. The Mets absolutely needed to win, too.

But baseball is a fickle game — fickle enough that it can turn when a cleat gets caught in the dirt — and on Sunday, some of the Mets’ most reliable players simply couldn’t do what they’ve done all year.

Justin Wilson and Seth Lugo — their best arms out of the bullpen — gave up a lead, with Wilson committing a pivotal balk when his cleat got stuck. And the hard-hitting trio of Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso went hitless for the entire series (0-for-25).

The Mets dropped the rubber game of the series to the Dodgers, 3-2, and fell four games out of the second wild card spot with 13 games left.

Though the cast of characters was a little different, the story was the same: Zack Wheeler pitched brilliantly, got little run support, left with a lead and wound up with a no decision.

“[Wilson and Lugo] have been so good, and we’ve relied on them so much,” Mickey Callaway said in something of an understatement. “That’s tough, but they’ve been pitching great.”

With the Mets up 2-1 thanks to Brandon Nimmo’s two-run triple in the second, Wilson walked Jedd Gyorko to lead off the eighth, then balked him to second. A wild pitch nearly hit Max Muncy before going to the backstop, sending Gyorko to third, and Chris Taylor’s double drove in the tying run.

With one out in the ninth, Lugo allowed a double by Kike Hernandez. He struck out Edwin Rios and was one strike away from getting out of it, but Gyorko pounced again: He singled on a 1-and-2 pitch to drive in the go-ahead run.

“We gotta win,” Wilson said. “We’ve had to win for a month, really. It is what it is. We’ve gotta win tomorrow now. This team hasn’t given up once all season. Zack pitched amazing tonight and sadly, I couldn’t hold the lead for him.”

Wheeler allowed one run and six hits, walked none and struck out nine in seven innings, one of the most dynamic performances of his career. He was lifted after 97 pitches, and though he said he would have kept pitching if he had been asked to do so, “a stressful game like that, I was a little tired there at the end.”

Wheeler has allowed one run in each of his last four starts (25 innings). In what should ensure a lucrative entrance into free agency this offseason, his ERA in his last nine starts is 2.73.

The Mets scored thanks to a Nimmo-led war of attrition in the second. After Robinson Cano walked with one out and J.D. Davis singled him to second, Nimmo positively wore down Walker Buehler. Buehler went up 0-and-2 before Nimmo worked him for another eight pitches — fouling off five — and pulled a cutter into the rightfield corner for a triple and a 2-0 lead. But Amed Rosario struck out, Wheeler grounded out and the Mets mustered only one hit the rest of the way.

The Dodgers made it 2-1 in the fourth when Muncy led off with a single, moved to second on a groundout and scored on Corey Seager’s two-out single to left.

Seager singled to lead off the seventh and, one out later, Gavin Lux blooped a single to left to put runners on first and second. But Wheeler struck out Hernandez swinging and got pinch hitter Matt Beaty to chase for strike three to strand the runners.

“When their back is against the wall, they do special things,” Callaway said. “They’ve proven that time and time again, and I think they’re going to continue to prove that. We’ve gotta take care of things in Colorado [Monday night]. Tough place to go, tough travel night, there’s no excuses.”

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