LOS ANGELES — The Mets fell hopelessly behind early against Clayton Kershaw, then roared to life by punishing the Dodgers ace with a barrage of longballs. Yet, despite introducing the potential for an improbable comeback Monday night, the Mets ultimately absorbed a 10-6 loss to the Dodgers.
The suddenly spiraling righthander Zack Wheeler left too big a hole for the Mets to overcome while Dodgers rookie sensation Clay Bellinger made history by blasting a pair of homers off Wheeler, who allowed seven runs and lasted just two innings.
“It’s something I need to fix pretty quick,” said Wheeler, who has surrendered 15 runs in his last two outings.
The Dodgers handed Kershaw a 7-0 lead, a seemingly insurmountable advantage for perhaps the best pitcher of his generation. That’s when things got weird. By the seventh, the Mets had trimmed the deficit to 8-6 by tagging Kershaw for six runs on four homers. It was the most home runs that the three-time Cy Young Award winner had ever allowed in a game, and the lefty responded by throwing a fit in the dugout once he was pulled.
Jay Bruce connected for his 20th homer of the season, a solo shot. Recently promoted infielder Gavin Cecchini added another, the first of his big-league career in just his second plate appearance of the season. And Jose Reyes blasted a pair of homers despite beginning the night with a .193 average.
Reyes’ first homer was a third-inning solo shot, the Mets’ first damage against Kershaw. The second came against Kershaw in the seventh, a two-run blast that cut the deficit to two runs.
But the Dodgers got two runs back against reliever Fernando Salas in the seventh, putting a dent in the Mets’ hopes of completing their rally. And in the eighth, Dodgers reliever Chris Hatcher kept order, striking out Reyes, who represented the tying run when he came up with the bases loaded.
With the loss, the Mets (31-38) remained 10 1⁄2 games behind the Nationals in the NL East, their closest route to a playoff spot.
“Right now, we need to turn it around sooner rather than later,” Reyes said. “It’s late June and we’re not even playing .500 baseball.”
Righthander Rafael Montero allowed just one run in 3 2⁄3 innings of relief of Wheeler, holding the line so that the Mets could climb back into the game. But the effort was wasted on a night in which Wheeler raised more red flags about whether his sudden downturn should be cause for long-term concern.
In a starting rotation that has been beset by injuries, Wheeler had emerged as its most consistent arm, even though he had not pitched in two years because of a brutal rehab from Tommy John surgery. But over his last two starts, he has allowed 15 runs in 3 2⁄3 innings, the worst stretch of his career.
“If you’ve got that kind of stuff and you’re getting hit like he’s getting hit, there’s something, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it,” Collins said. “I’ve never seen him miss like that.”
Both Collins and Wheeler dismissed talk of a potential injury. But regardless of the cause, the results have been stunningly different. Since June 7, Wheeler’s ERA has climbed from 3.45 to 5.29, a downturn that comes with the Mets desperately searching for a way to turn their fortunes and save their season.
“Honestly, I haven’t had off-speed [command] all year and now it’s starting to catch up with me a little bit,” said Wheeler, who has made it easy for opponents to sit on his fastball. “Guys got scouting reports and it’s just starting to catch up to me.”
Armed with only spotty command, Wheeler allowed the first five Dodgers to reach base. That stretch included a three-run homer by Bellinger. That was his 20th homer through his first 51 games, equaling a big-league record shared by the Red Sox’s Wally Berger and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez
But in the second, Bellinger carved out his own line in the record book. After former Met Justin Turner clubbed a two-run homer off Wheeler — one of his four hits on the night — the rookie Bellinger followed with a solo shot, giving him a record 21 homers in his first 51 games.
The Mets began their 10-game road trip facing a 7-0 deficit, with yet another starting pitcher under duress. Despite struggles of his own, Kershaw improved to 8-0 in 12 career starts against the Mets, and the Dodgers won for the 10th time in their last 11 games.
Said Collins: “You cannot spot Clayton Kershaw seven runs and expect to come out on top.”