CINCINNATI — The most obvious difference Saturday in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Reds was the one that came last: Seth Lugo allowed a go-ahead single with two outs in the eighth inning by Christian Colon, a top-prospect-turned-journeyman who picked up his first major-league hit in 2 1⁄2 seasons.
But you could point to any of several other moments as difference-makers.
Earlier in the eighth, for example, Justin Wilson started the Reds’ rally by walking Jose Iglesias, a turning point specifically bemoaned by manager Mickey Callaway. In the fifth, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso struck out with the bases loaded. In the third, Brandon Nimmo and McNeil struck out with a runner on third. And in the first, Todd Frazier made an error and misplayed another grounder in the Reds’ two-run rally.
Altogether, it was a major missed opportunity and playoff-race blow for the Mets (80-74). They are 4 1⁄2 games behind the Brewers (85-70) for the second wild card spot and have an elimination number of four.
Even winning all eight of their remaining games might not be enough.
“These are games we’re supposed to win,” said Frazier, who had two of the Mets’ three hits. “I felt like we had to go 9-1. So here is our one.”
The score was tied in the bottom of the eighth when Wilson retired one of his three batters. He walked Iglesias with one out before Jose Peraza blooped a single to right. Callaway brought in Lugo, who struck out Curt Casali but allowed a soft grounder by Colon. It sneaked its way into centerfield and allowed Iglesias to score.
For Colon, who spent much of last season with the Mets’ Triple-A team, it wasn’t even his biggest hit against them. He also had the go-ahead single in the 12th inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series for the Royals.
“If it was down, I think he swings and misses. If it was up, I think he pops it up,” Lugo said. “It was literally the only spot that he can do what he did. I gotta tip my hat to him.”
Lugo shook off catcher Wilson Ramos several times before deciding on a 3-and-2 curveball.
“After shaking a few times, not finding the pitch I wanted, I [opted for a curve], and that’s my best pitch,” Lugo said. “So I went with that and I trusted it. I can hang my hat on that.”
Said Callaway: “That’s just Lugo. He shakes off all the time to get to the pitch that he wants to throw. I’m sure he was convicted in that curveball. Just didn’t get it below the zone enough.”
Zack Wheeler was very good, allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings. Both runs came in the first inning after Cincinnati loaded the bases with none out on Phillip Ervin’s single, Joey Votto’s walk and Frazier’s error.
The next batter, Aristides Aquino, sent a bouncer to Frazier, who thought it was foul and hesitated before throwing to first. Aquino beat it for a single.
“I made a boneheaded mistake,” Frazier said. “That’s something that cost us one, maybe even two runs.”
Reds righthander Anthony DeSclafani held the Mets to two runs (one earned), three hits and one walk in six innings. He struck out seven. In an early two-run hole, the Mets scored in the third on Wheeler’s groundout and the fifth on Brandon Nimmo’s bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
The Mets went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Their final 14 batters went down in order.
“We gotta battle, we gotta fight pitches off, we gotta put them in play and give ourselves a chance,” Callaway said. “Like Colon did there. He just reaches out and puts it in play and maybe something good happens.”