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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Steven Matz hits Mark Teixeira and Mets get nailed

Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets

Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets stands on the mound in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

There’s never a great time to go on the disabled list with a quadriceps strain, but some occasions are worse than others. And for Yoenis Cespedes, who was wearing a small iceberg on his right leg after Wednesday’s 9-5 loss to the Yankees, doing so after playing 18 holes of golf that same morning is not, optics-wise, the perfect scenario.

Then again, nothing went right for the Mets during Wednesday’s visit to the Bronx, from an erratic Steven Matz getting smacked around early to a paranoid Hansel Robles losing his cool over suspected sign-stealing by Mark Teixeira later on. It’s always bad to be the team with everything to lose in the Subway Series, and the Mets suffered dearly at the hands of the relatively angst-free Yankees, who must be enjoying their new spoiler role.

Teixeira relished playing the villain, thumping Matz for a three-run homer and also causing the benches to clear after getting drilled on the leg in what he figured was payback. Factor in the alleged sign-stealing afterward, and Teixeira was in the Mets’ heads all night — until they wound up having bigger problems to worry about.

“We’re in the Subway Series,” said Mets catcher Rene Rivera, who at one point held Teixeira back from approaching the mound. “Things are going to happen here.”

The day began with such promise, too, when the Cubs rallied for four runs over the last two innings at Wrigley to beat the Marlins, the Mets’ chief competition for the wild card. That, and the Mets taking a 2-0 lead off Chad Green in the first inning, was as good as it got Wednesday before the steady roll downhill.

Take Matz, for instance. After giving up six runs Wednesday over six innings, Matz is 1-7 with a 4.54 ERA over his last 12 starts dating to May 31. That’s not ace-type material, that’s average -- and trending in the wrong direction. It’s not entirely his fault, either. Everyone knows he’s battling a painful bone spur in his left elbow, which threatens to shut him down at any time, and that’s got to be messing with his performance -- even if Matz won’t admit it.

A steady dose of anti-inflammatory medication can only do so much. The spur needs to be removed surgically — as opposed to the one in Noah Syndergaard’s elbow — and the Mets were hoping to delay the procedure until after the season. But if Matz remains ineffective, that strategy doesn’t help much.

“I think it’s been the same thing that’s been getting me a lot this season,” said Matz, mentioning his inability to finish pitches early on. “It’s been tough, but I’m just trying to stay positive.”

That’s going to get harder to do around the Mets, who had enough on their plate before seeing Matz struggle again and then having to put Cespedes on the DL. Before Wednesday’s game, the conversations with Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson focused mainly on the team’s abundance of defensively-challenged outfielders.

Alderson felt he could only plug so many holes at once, and opted to trade for Jay Bruce -- not the perfect fit -- to pair with Cespedes in the middle of the lineup. Plus, the GM said, the Mets still had the third-ranked pitching staff in the majors, with a 3.35 ERA.

“We spend a lot of time on what we we can’t do,” Alderson said in talking about the often negative-leaning climate around the Mets. “We need to spend a little more time on what we can do.”

With Cespedes landing on the DL, however, that second list just got a little shorter. The Mets thought the schedule was going to help them out this week, giving them the chance to use Cespedes at DH for five games while his leg heals up. But that plan crashed the very first night, and now Bruce will be viewed as the savior, fairly or not. In this Mets’ offense, which went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, that’s not an easy label to wear.

“That’s why it’s called a team,” Bruce said. “I think everyone in here understands that we have to pick up the slack.”

For the reeling Mets, that seems to be par for the course.

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