LOS ANGELES — First, there was Dodgers slugger Yasiel Puig, admiring his own handiwork, before moving slower around the bases than the 110 freeway at rush hour. Then, there was Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores, grousing about that supposed breach in etiquette, one that he was ultimately powerless to stop.
Yet, Flores had to say something. On Wednesday night, he felt compelled to rage. In a season gone sideways, with the Mets on the way to an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of the surging Dodgers, he couldn’t stomach another humiliation.
“We’re playing horrible right now and we don’t need his [expletive],” said Flores, who shared that he advised Puig to run the bases.
Puig’s response, relayed by Flores, and confirmed by television replays: “[Expletive] you.”
Puig then found an even slower gear as he took 32.1 seconds to complete the trip. At home plate, catcher Travis d’Arnaud also had a word.
So, Puig rounded the bases without a care in the world after his three-run homer off Tyler Pill powered a four-run fourth inning by the Dodgers. And the Mets were forced to watch it, yet another reminder that they no longer are the team that broke camp with hopes of another postseason run.
“We got bigger problems than somebody’s home run trot right now,” Mets manager Terry Collins said.
The Mets (31-40) lost for the seventh time in nine games. Despite a pregame address to the team, the Mets crashed to nine games under the .500 mark for the first time since Sept. 2, 2014. A gap of 11 1/2 games separates them from a playoff spot.
The Dodgers have outscored the Mets 30-8 and can sweep the four-game series on Thursday. And before Wednesday’s loss, an already steep climb for the Mets grew even more treacherous with the loss of Zack Wheeler, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list right biceps tendonitis.
An already-steep climb grew even more treacherous with the loss of another pitcher. Both Wheeler and Collins both insisted that nothing was physically wrong on Monday, after Wheeler was pounded for seven runs in two innings, bringing his total to 15 earned runs in his last two starts.
Two days later, the 27-year-old Wheeler became the fifth of the Mets’ top starting pitchers to hit the DL. Wheeler is expected to miss two starts at most.
“It’s not terribly serious,” said general manager Sandy Alderson, who revealed that the pitcher had undergone a battery of tests within the last 10 days that cleared him of structural damage.
Yet, Wheeler acknowledged on Wednesday that he had been dealing with a persistent soreness in his biceps. When it did not improve, he notified the team, though he had pitched through it even before he got knocked around in his last two outings.
“I sort of tried everything to clear it up but it sort of stayed with me,” Wheeler said. “I knew something like this might pop up just being away for two years.”
Until his recent skid, Wheeler had pitched well after a two-year absence after Tommy John surgery. In 13 starts, the righty is 3-5 with a 5.29 ERA, though that figure has risen from 3.45 over his last two starts.
Collins said the righthander’s recent lack of command is likely related to the biceps condition. Wheeler insisted he felt fine enough to pitch without hurting the team.
In addition to sending Wheeler to the DL, the Mets promoted Pill and Erik Goeddel from Triple-A Las Vegas while sending down infielder Matt Reynolds.
Wheeler’s DL stint came two days after he lasted just two innings in Monday’s series opener, and one day after Tuesday’s 12-0 loss, in which the Dodgers bashed a season-high five homers and led 4-0 before starter Robert Gsellman recorded the first out of the first inning.
“Sometimes, you just can’t help guys getting hurt,” said Wheeler, who defended the team’s embattled training staff. “I know fans are frustrated and stuff like that. But sometimes you just can’t help that kind of stuff.”
Indeed, injuries have diluted the rotation. Consider Pill, the righthander who started on Wednesday and got torched for six runs in six innings. Pill’s best fastball cracks the low 90s — about the same as Noah Syndergaard’s changeup.
But thanks to his injured lat muscle, Syndergaard is still weeks from playing catch. So, with the season on the brink, it is the likes of Pill who have been charged to help save it. It isn’t the same.
When Pill fell behind in the count to 3-and-1 to Puig in the fourth inning, he made the mistake of throwing a 91 mph fastball down the heart of the plate. Puig did not miss.
In the middle of the fifth, Puig engaged in yet another exchange, this one between his countryman Yoenis Cespedes and shortstop Jose Reyes. Cespedes, who also takes his time after homers, refused to discuss the talk. Through a spokesman, he called it “a personal conversation.” Later, Puig told reporters he had been prodded to run faster, though he did not feel compelled to listen.
“Yasiel is very, very talented,” Mets rightfielder Jay Bruce said. “But I mean, he’s not David Ortiz. This guy doesn’t have 500-something home runs. If it takes you a minute to get around the bases, some people are going to get upset about that.”
One of those people was Flores, who surprised teammates by his jawing at Puig.
“He’s just disrespected us,” Flores said. “I don’t take that. I don’t think we do.”
Except, the Mets did take it. After Puig’s homer, the beatdown unfolded with no additional fireworks, and there seemed to be little reason to escalate.
Later, Puig wondered aloud if Flores had been on edge because of the way the series has unfolded, taking note in the disparity in homers. The Dodgers have hit 12 in three games.
“If that’s the way he feels,” Puig told reporters, “it might be a result of them not playing so well.”