One more time: “Take me out to the ball game . . . ”
The last thing the Mets needed was to extend this game and this homestand, but there they were Sunday, having to experience two seventh-inning stretches in an 11-1 loss to the Pirates. The Mets ended a 3-4 week at Citi Field with a game that was an encore of this season’s angst.
“Murphy’s Law has been in effect to this point. It’s kind of like when it has rained, it has poured. When things haven’t gone well, they really haven’t gone well,” said Neil Walker, who was in the middle of the weirdest play of the day, a delayed challenge on an apparent inning-ending double play in the top of the seventh.
It was so apparent that the Mets had left for their dugout and the whole park was treated to the array of songs customarily played during the seventh-inning stretch: a live performance of “God Bless America” (a Sunday staple) and recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (featuring on-field appearances by Mr. and Mrs. Met) and “Lazy Mary.”
Little did Walker and his teammates know that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had registered a challenge, claiming that Walker had not been on the base when he took the relay. The challenge was lodged even though the runner, Josh Harrison, was hobbling and not headed directly to the base. Walker said that play is called an out “100 out of 100 times.” In the high-definition instant replay era, however, calls go by the letter of the law — the “neighborhood rule’’ is no more — and the call was overturned.
Terry Collins said the umpires told him they did not want to interrupt “God Bless America,” so they let all of the festivities play out before checking the video. When they did, Max Moroff, running for Harrison, was awarded second base. And as Murphy’s Law would have it, David Freese singled to right, making the score 6-1 before the half-inning officially ended and everyone heard a reprise of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
As Mets Law would have it, Pittsburgh tacked on two runs in the eighth and three in the ninth (a homer by the rejuvenated Andrew McCutchen), and what had stretched most was the Mets fans’ patience.
“We haven’t pitched,” Collins said. “We haven’t pitched like we can. This game is about pitching. We’ve had some injuries, there’s no question about it. We certainly did not have any indication in spring training that some of these guys would struggle like they’ve struggled. One day, they’re really good; the next time, they’re not.”
The staff has been stretched so thin that Tyler Pill, an emergency call-up from the minors, was pressed into service for a second start. He allowed five runs and eight hits in five innings, which was not as good as he had been in his debut start on Tuesday but not terrible, compared with expectations for a long-shot big-leaguer.
Then again, the problem is not just pitching. The Mets’ defense often has taken them out of the ballgame. On Tuesday, Pill lost his shot at a first (and possibly only) major-league win when Asdrubal Cabrera muffed an easy pop. This time Michael Conforto made two throwing errors in leftfield that led to two unearned runs.
The hitting has not been so hot, either. Three times in the past five games, the Mets have scored only one run. On Sunday, they allowed starter Trevor Williams to go seven innings for the first time in his career. They stifled potential rallies by hitting into four double plays.
“I think we’ll rally around each other and continue to grind it out,” Conforto said. “Obviously, we’d be better with our star players, but I think we’ve got a team that is capable of going out and winning games.”
At the moment, they have lost four of five, and one wacky challenge. “I guess that’s what replay is for,” Walker said, “but that’s stretching it.”
The Mets’ fill-in starters have struggled over the past month.
Pill30-May5.336134W 5-4Pill4-Jun58304L 11-1
32 2/3 53311730
Record 2-6 (outscored 56-31)