PHILADELPHIA — If you tilted your head and squinted a little in recent weeks, you could look at Wilmer Font, a low-key midseason acquisition by the Mets, and see a pitcher who almost looked like he might be a legitimate help to a bad bullpen. He throws pretty hard. He has five pitches. He goes multiple innings. And, shoot, he had a 0.69 ERA the past month.
And then Tuesday night happened. In one-third of an inning during the Mets’ 7-5 loss to the Phillies, Wilmer Font allowed two inherited runners and three of his own to score and nearly hit Scott Kingery in the head with a pitch, triggering warnings to both teams, who have already cleared the benches this season.
The Mets (37-43) have dropped three in a row and are six games below .500 for the first time this year.
It was a harsh reminder that Font, 29, has a 6.09 career ERA, and this bullpen is a lot more than a couple of good weeks from a journeyman swingman away from turning itself around. Mets relievers have a 5.48 ERA this year, 28th in the majors. In June, that mark is 7.44.
“We have to be more effective,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “We have the most talented guys in our system up here. The most talented ones have to get the job done.”
Font nearly avoided disaster. Jay Bruce grounded out to shortstop, bringing home one of Walker Lockett’s runners, and Cesar Hernandez hit a bouncer to second — a potential inning-ender that was placed perfectly for a single.
“It hurts a little bit when you make a pitch, you get a ground ball and for whatever reason it goes somewhere you can’t get an out,” Callaway said.
That’s when it got ugly in the sixth inning. Maikel Franco launched a two-run homer to right-center, providing the Phillies their first lead of the game. Brad Miller added a pinch-hit solo shot. Then Font’s 1-and-1 fastball got up enough and in enough that it caught Scott Kingery on the shoulder. Plate umpire Joe West immediately warned both dugouts, which angered Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, who was ejected after arguing. Robert Gsellman replaced Font.
“I got deep into counts and I fell behind pretty early,” Font said through an interpreter. “When I tried to come back and make certain pitches, they just weren’t as effective.”
The Mets stranded the would-be tying runs in the ninth. In the eighth, Jeff McNeil’s double high off the wall was nearly a game-tying two run homer.
“I thought I hit it well enough and that I was going to sneak it into that first row,” McNeil said. “To see it hit the top of the fence is frustrating.”
Lockett gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings, the longest of his six career major-league appearances by an out. The final line looked better before Font allowed both of his inherited runners to score. Lockett scattered five hits and two walks, settling in nicely after Kingery, the Phillies’ first batter of the game, homered to rightfield. He struck out four.
Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario both homered off Philadelphia’s Jake Arrieta, who allowed five runs in six innings. Smith has gone deep two nights in a row. Rosario’s long ball was his ninth of the year, matching his career high from 2018 in exactly half as many games (77).
McNeil continued his All-Star campaign with a 4-for-5 night. His average is up to .348, second in the majors behind the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger (.353). Aware of the leaderboard, McNeil says he tries not to think about it too much, but it’s satisfying given he was in Double-A last June.
“I’m just going to keep doing my thing up there,” he said. “We’ll see where it’s at the end of the year.”