The season was filed away in the lost-cause column long ago, but the Mets hadn’t looked like a lost cause lately.
The starting pitchers had a 1.40 ERA to show for the last eight games. The relief pitchers had been leading the National League in ERA in August. The offense had produced more runs than any other team in the league since the All-Star break.
The starting pitcher remained stingy in Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals at Citi Field. The bullpen? Not so much.
After Steven Matz gave up a run in seven innings, three relievers allowed a staggering 14 runs in the final two innings to a team that had been shut out in its previous three games.
The Mets also managed all of three singles, including two in six innings against rookie Jefry Rodriguez. So they couldn’t finish off the three-game sweep, falling with a thud, 15-0.
“The bullpen has been pitching really well,” said Paul Sewald, who was charged with five runs in one-third of an inning. “So for it to get out of hand like that was disappointing. But we’ll shake it off and we’ll go get them in Chicago [Monday].”
The 15-run margin matched the Mets’ worst loss in Citi Field history and tied for the second-worst shutout loss in franchise history. The Mets dropped to 6-3 in the last nine games, 14-9 in their last 23 and 58-72 overall.
Matz dropped to 5-11, not that he deserved the “L.” The Ward Melville alumnus allowed five hits and one walk in his seven innings, striking out seven, and left with the Mets trailing 1-0. “I was able to keep the ball down with my sinker and then the changeup, I was keeping them off the fastball,” Matz said.
Heading into the sixth, the Nationals (65-66) had gone 32 innings without scoring, their longest drought since 2004, when they were named the Montreal Expos. But Matz cracked, giving up a double by Trea Turner, a single by Anthony Rendon and an RBI groundout by Juan Soto.
The drought was over. Then it started raining runs in the eighth.
Washington loaded the bases with none out against Sewald on an infield hit, a walk and a bloop single. Ryan Zimmerman went down swinging, but Sewald walked Soto with a 3-and-1 fastball to force in a run.
Mickey Callaway didn’t have a lefty warm to face pinch hitter Bryce Harper.
“If we start matching up there, we start using guys that we don’t want to use,” Callaway said. And
Harper delivered a three-run double down the rightfield line to make it 5-0.
“I made some pretty good pitches there and just kind of had some unfortunate luck,” Sewald said of the inning. “ . . . It just wasn’t my day.”
So Tyler Bashlor trotted in. The rookie righty served up two-run homers by Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton, making it an eight-run eighth.
“I think everybody knew it was coming,” Harper said of the outburst.
Corey Oswalt took his turn getting whacked around in the ninth, yielding six runs, six hits — including a grand slam by Mark Reynolds — and a bases-loaded walk.
“The bats . . . these guys can hit,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “They proved that the last couple of innings.”
Callaway saw this late Mets mess another way.
“We threw 78 pitches in two innings,” he said. “We just didn’t throw enough strikes.”