Tuesday night looked like an opportunity for the Mets. Collectively struggling, they were fresh off their first day off in more than half a month and returned to play the Orioles, the worst team in baseball, and righty Alex Cobb, who woke up with a 6.80 ERA, while welcoming back two of their key offseason additions from the disabled list: third baseman Todd Frazier and reliever Anthony Swarzak.
Opportunity knocked. Nobody answered. The Mets tied their season low with three hits as they lost to Baltimore, 2-1, their fifth in a row and 10th in 12 games. The Orioles snapped a seven-game losing streak.
In five games (50 innings) this homestand, the Mets have scored seven runs.
“There’s only one way to go, and that’s up,” Jay Bruce said. “We prepare. We work. We give the effort. We just have to figure out a way to score more runs than the other team. That’s the bottom line. I don’t know what the answer is right now, but we have to figure out a way to do that.”
This one followed a script similar to the one the Mets used in the weekend sweep by the Cubs: decent starting pitching, minimal hitting.
Bruce went 2-for-3 with a walk, his second multihit game in more than two weeks. Kevin Plawecki (a double) had the only other Mets hit. None of those knocks came until the fifth, when they also scored to end a 21-inning scoreless streak. Jose Bautista lofted a sacrifice fly to left to bring in Bruce.
Then the scoring ceased. The Mets stranded the would-be tying run in scoring position in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings. They left Bruce at first base in the ninth.
Much of their futility came against Cobb (2-7), who allowed one run, struck out seven in six innings and lowered his ERA to 6.19.
The home runs are not coming from a lineup built to hit home runs, the Mets’ 59 long balls ranking in the bottom third of the majors. Manager Mickey Callaway suggested re-emphasizing a different approach until they can snap out of this funk.
“We have to try to create some runs. We have to do some of those small things,” Callaway said, referencing Brandon Nimmo’s successful bunt in the eighth. “We have to continue to be aware on balls in the dirt; if it gets away from the catcher, we have to get on second. We have to do all those little small things to take that extra base that allow maybe a sac fly or something like that.”
Jason Vargas, meanwhile, appeared to take another step in the right direction, keeping Baltimore to two runs in five innings. He began poorly — five of the first eight Orioles batters reached base to start the game — but settled in to retire 12 of his final 13. Manny Machado (RBI single) and Danny Valencia (sacrifice fly) drove in runs.
Vargas struck out four and walked one as his ERA dropped to 7.71, its lowest point of the season. He has lasted five innings — a season high — in three of his past four starts.
Swarzak, who returned after missing two months with an oblique injury, tossed a scoreless ninth inning.
“Felt good to get out there,” Swarzak said. “It was nice to strike out the first guy I faced. Got to play around with some pitches after that. Kind of upset I had a guy 1-2 and walked him. I’m just nitpicking stuff, I guess. It was nice. Healthy.”
Frazier finished 0-for-4.
“He definitely rejuvenates [the lineup],” Callaway said. “He rejuvenates the dugout.”
It didn’t work Tuesday night.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves or care what other people think,” Bruce said. “Just play better.”