Nature can be harsh and unforgiving, and on Thursday night, it did the Mets no favors.
With thunderstorms in the forecast, the Mets pushed back their best pitcher in favor of their worst one, but as the innings dragged on, no rain came.
The Padres, who entered with the majors’ worst record, chased Rafael Montero after three innings, and their anonymous lineup scored just enough runs in the Mets’ 4-3 loss, their 10th in 13 games. Meanwhile, the skies opened in New Jersey and Long Island while Flushing stayed preternaturally dry, as if the Doppler itself was mocking the Mets and their plans.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Michael Conforto, who was 1-for-5, struck out four times and lost a fly ball in the twilight and the mist in the third inning.
The outlook was never all that good. About three hours before the first pitch, Terry Collins said the team wasn’t going to risk wasting Jacob deGrom. Instead, Montero, who hasn’t won a game since Sept. 10, 2014, and now has an 8.24 ERA, got the start. The hope, Collins said, was that he would last four or five innings. And that was a best-case scenario.
But as has occurred all too often, best case wasn’t even close. The Padres (18-31) scored three runs in three innings against Montero.
Collins said afterward that they waited on telling him that he was going to start so he could have a feel similar to when he’s called on in the bullpen. But mind games didn’t work.
“There’s certain expectations when you’re in a big-league uniform. One is that you’ve got to command your pitches,” Collins said. The more pressing reason came out afterward: “We don’t have a lot of options.”
The Mets’ bullpen did well as Paul Sewald and Josh Edgin totaled five scoreless innings. After Addison Reed gave up a run in the ninth, the Mets put runners at the corners with one out in the bottom half. Jose Reyes’ forceout made it 4-3, but Jay Bruce fouled out to end it.
Things quickly got ugly in the first inning, when Montero loaded the bases with one out on two walks and an infield hit. Cory Spangenberg singled in a run and Montero walked in a second run. He used 45 pitches in a single inning of a game in which the Mets planned to cap him at about 75 to 80 (he ended up with 87) and is 1-9 in his career.
“That’s what we’ve been fighting with Raffy,” Collins said, referring to Montero’s command. “He was in constant trouble in the first inning, and fortunately we limited the damage.”
Montero, speaking through an interpreter, saw it slightly differently: “I think it was just after that first walk, I struggled a little bit. After that, I thought I started doing some decent pitches and after that, I think I was just balancing it all out.”
Lucas Duda’s homer in the second cut the Padres’ lead to 2-1 and his RBI single in the eighth drew the Mets to within 3-2. But Wilmer Flores flied out and Asdrubal Cabrera, pinch hitting in his return from the disabled list, grounded into a double play. That was just the latest in a string of disappointments, from Matt Reynolds getting thrown out at the plate in the third to not capitalizing on an outfield error in the fifth.
“They gave us a chance,” Collins said of his bullpen. “We had a number of guys on base and we just couldn’t get a hit.”
It’s the latest in a list of indignities that now include a lost gamble with Mother Nature. An hour after Citi Field had been vacated, the grass remained perfectly dry.
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