ATLANTA -- Throughout this cursed road trip, the Mets have not lived up to their status as a first-place team. They have dabbled in slapstick, turning the most basic tasks into adventures.
The reckoning for this carelessness came Saturday night in a 6-4 loss to the Braves that left them a half-game behind the Nationals for first place in the NL East.
The Mets' fourth consecutive loss was punctuated by a comedic parade of botched plays and miscues. As if the sloppiness wasn't enough, catcher Travis d'Arnaud left the game after hyperextending his left elbow in a collision with A.J. Pierzynski.
X-rays were negative but d'Arnaud came away with swelling and some pain. The Mets listed him as day-to-day. "A lot of negative thoughts were going through my head," said a relieved d'Arnaud, who insisted he could be available Sunday. "I'm just very fortunate that it wasn't as serious as I was thinking."
The Mets already have gone seven weeks without d'Arnaud because of a broken finger and a wrist injury suffered during his lengthy rehab. His return has been one of the few bright spots for an offense that has shriveled.
D'Arnaud lined a two-run single in the first to give the Mets the lead, then hit a tying solo homer in the sixth. But his departure gave the Mets more reason to wince after another embarrassing display of poor defense.
"It wears on you," said Terry Collins, who watched rookies commit two of the three gaffes.
Second baseman Dilson Herrera failed to cover second on a stolen-base attempt in the third -- Collins called it "a lapse" -- and the miscue led to a run.
The Braves scored two runs in the fourth thanks in part to centerfielder Juan Lagares, who attempted to barehand Andrelton Simmons' single. The ball got away, giving Simmons an extra base, and he eventually scored.
Reliever Logan Verrett neglected to cover first on a bunt in the sixth, helping the Braves snap a 4-4 tie with a two-run inning.
Curtis Granderson hit a solo homer for the Mets, but they were done in by their self-destructive defensive lapses as Noah Syndergaard battled the elements.
The righthander usually doesn't use rosin, but the humidity caused him to sweat so much that he had trouble gripping the ball.
"From pitch one, I was up there battling," said Syndergaard, who allowed four runs (three earned).
Indeed, he needed 88 pitches to navigate four innings, prompting Collins to pull him after the Braves scored two runs on three meek hits.
Perhaps the only measure of relief came from d'Arnaud's injury, which could have been worse. Initially, Collins thought he had hyperextended his shoulder, a much more severe injury.
With the bases loaded in the sixth, pinch hitter Pedro Ciriaco lifted a fly ball to left-center. Michael Cuddyer caught it and fired wide, taking d'Arnaud into the third-base line, on a collision course with Pierzynski.
Pierzynski touched the plate for the go-ahead run, then lingered, apparently out of concern for his fellow catcher as d'Arnaud writhed in pain.
In a few moments, he began his slow walk toward the dugout, a fitting image on a night filled with pain.
Now, with the Mets in need of a win, Matt Harvey will take the mound in the series finale.
"I don't think we need to panic," Collins said. "We can't make the mental mistakes, we can't make the physical mistakes."
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