The Mets' Pete Alonso dives to tag first base for...

The Mets' Pete Alonso dives to tag first base for an out on a ball hit by Philadelphia Phillies' Jean Segura during the first inning on Saturday in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Derik Hamilton

PHILADELPHIA — Welcome to the freefall portion of the Mets’ season, featuring the same familiar, underperforming offense from all the other portions and now including a significantly regressing rotation.

Those factors collided in another loss to the Phillies, 5-3, on Saturday. The Mets will try to avoid getting swept when they face Zack Wheeler, one of the best pitchers in the National League, on Sunday.

A ninth-inning rally turned a regular loss into an excruciating one. With the Mets down 5-0, Michael Conforto, Jonathan Villar and James McCann led off the inning with back-to-back-to-back homers off Mauricio Llovera to make it interesting. Ian Kennedy then allowed a single by Kevin Pillar and a one-out walk to Brandon Nimmo but struck out Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis, each representing the potential go-ahead run, to end it.

The Mets (56-54) have not had a lead since Wednesday. They have lost eight of their past 10 games and 14 of 23 in the second half. That has resulted in them dropping 5 1⁄2 games in the standings in a week — from four games ahead of the Phillies to 1 1⁄2 back. Philadelphia (58-53) has won seven straight.

"You can’t keep saying, ‘We’ll get them tomorrow, we’ll get them tomorrow, we’ll get them tomorrow,’ " McCann said. "Because next thing you know, you’ll look up and it’ll be the middle of September and it’ll be too late. So there does have to be a sense of urgency. But there’s a difference between sense of urgency and panic."

Manager Luis Rojas said: "We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win tomorrow."

Before the late excitement, the Mets had only two hits: Javier Baez’s single on a weak ground ball and pitcher Tylor Megill’s double. Megill crumbled late in his start, allowing four runs in 4 2⁄3 innings.


The light-hitting, poor-pitching combo is a bad one — and relatively new — for the Mets.

Before the All-Star break, their starting pitchers had a 2.98 ERA, second in the majors behind the Dodgers (2.94). They had the best pitcher in the world in Jacob deGrom, another All-Star in Taijuan Walker, another guy having the best year of his career in Marcus Stroman and even a surprise impact rookie in Megill. Their routine excellence allowed the Mets to remain atop the NL East despite minimal scoring.

Since returning from the break, however, the Mets have a 5.42 rotation ERA. That ranks comfortably among the bottom third of teams. DeGrom is out hurt, Walker has looked like a shell of his early-season self and Megill has hit a rough patch.

"You know they’re going to run into some tough times," Rojas said. "That’s why I keep mentioning the offense. The offense needs to support that, too, because these guys are not going to be perfect."

Megill cruised early, not allowing a baserunner until the fourth inning. Then he doubled in the top of the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, he allowed homers by Brad Miller (his first of two solo shots) and Odubel Herrera (three-run blast with two outs).

"Just a couple of bad pitches," said Megill, who has given up four earned runs in consecutive outings after not doing it at all in his first seven starts.

Added McCann: "I’m not saying the reason he made those mistakes is because he was on the bases and was tired, but that’s what happens. He was throwing the ball extremely well, and next thing you know, we make a mistake."

Flailing at the plate, the Mets opted for a funky lineup, stacking righthanded hitters against Philadelphia starter Ranger Suarez, a lefthanded pitcher who is particularly effective against lefthanded hitters. That meant sitting Dominic Smith (who has crushed lefties this year and last), Jeff McNeil and Conforto.

When McNeil was on the bench Thursday in Miami, Rojas said he needed the rest so he could start all three games this weekend. On Saturday, Rojas said the Mets decided they liked Villar’s chances against Suarez better. McNeil physically is fine, Rojas added.

"Nothing more than matching up against Suarez," Rojas said before the game.

It didn’t really work. Suarez, a reliever until about a week ago, tossed 2 2⁄3 hitless innings, walking three and striking out four. The Mets did, however, make him throw 61 pitches, his approximate limit, after just eight outs.

But they found no success against the Phillies’ bullpen, their weakness, until the ninth.

"As far as our clubhouse goes, as far as our team goes, there’s nobody that is panicking," McCann said. "We know what we’re capable of. Unfortunately, we’re just not showing that right now on the field."


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