|The Cubs returning to the dugout after Victor Caratini's homer in the seventh. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Mets entered Thursday night's game against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field facing one of their toughest moments of the season.
They had seen one of their best pitchers, Noah Syndergaard, get lit up for 10 runs in a brutal loss to the Cubs, the second straight loss to them and fifth overall, leaving them just two games over .500, at 67-65, and four behind Chicago for the second Wild Card.
Mets Manager Mickey Callaway has stressed throughout this season, which has been full of peaks and valleys, whether this one would qualify as a "must-win", and he said, "I think this question gets asked daily and the answer is always the same. Every game is the most important game, and we're going to go out there and do everything we can to win the next game, and then you get through that game, then the next game is the most important.
"I think this team has done a great job of taking that approach throughout the season, and in the long run, if you take that approach every single day, you'll end up doing something that you can be proud of."
The Mets were sending their ace, Jacob deGrom, to the mound, against Chicago's stalwart veteran left-hander, Jon Lester.
DeGrom was his usual superb self, as he was one batter over the minimum in the first six innings, with the only blemish a solo home run to Victor Caratini in the second inning.
Lester had a shaky start, allowing a solo home run to J.D. Davis, a bomb to deep center that cleared the apple in deep center field.
The Mets then got two more runners on later in the first, as well as in the second and third innings, but couldn't cash in, which has been the story of the sweep to Atlanta over the weekend and then this series with Chicago.
Starting with the last out of the third, when Todd Frazier flew out to center field to end that rally, Lester retired eight in a row.
The streak was broken in the sixth when he allowed a one-out single to Michael Conforto. Frazier then struck out, and with Conforto running on what was likely a hit-and-run, he was thrown out at second by Cubs catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Where the Cubs defense helped Lester in the sixth, it betrayed deGrom in the seventh.
After striking out Nicholas Castellanos looking, Kris Bryant grounded one to Mets shortstop Amed Rosario at shortstop, who could not handle the high bounce as he tried to backhand it. The play was ruled a hit, but probably should have been called an error.
Javier Baez then lined one up the middle, which was just out of reach of, you guessed it, Rosario.
Caratini then launched a bomb to deep right for a three-run homer, his second of the night, and somehow, out of nowhere, Chicago was up 4-1.
Addison Russell followed with a hit that took a weird hop past first baseman Pete Alonso, but deGrom prevented further damage by striking out Tony Kemp looking and getting Lucroy to ground one back to him.
Callaway said of the seventh inning unraveling on deGrom, "The first two guys they got on, they just squeaked them through, and then Caratini, second slider he hit out of the day, just a slider he was probably trying to go backfoot, I didn't have a chance to go look at the replay to see where they set up or talk to them about it, but I was thinking right along with Jake. He had him set up perfectly for a backfoot slider, he would have swung right over it, and he just didn't get it to where he wanted to get it.
"So, he did, he was dealing. Guys are on a roll until they're not on a roll, but that's how this game goes and that was a tough one."
That was all for deGrom since the Lucroy out was at pitch number 100, and his spot was due up second in the bottom of the seventh.
Lester did not come back for the seventh, so Chicago had to turn to their bullpen, which was a lot better than Wednesday night.
Tyler Chatwood pitched a perfect seventh, in which he struck out Juan Lagares, got pinch-hitter Joe Panik (for deGrom) to pop out to center field, and then struck out Rosario.
Brandon Kintzler got the first two Mets out quickly in the eighth before Bryant made a throwing error on a grounder from Alonso, but the Mets didn't make him pay as Ramos grounded into a force out to end the inning.
Craig Kimbrel came on for the second straight night to close it out in the ninth and he retired the Mets in order for his 13th save as Chicago completed the sweep with the 4-1 win.
The Mets have now lost six in a row and close this crucial homestand with a record of 3-6, as they swept Cleveland and then were swept by Atlanta and the Cubs.
Their record is now 67-66, back to a familiar spot right around the .500 mark, after they reached a season-high seven games over (67-60) when they swept Cleveland.
"I think the last six games, that's tough to swallow," Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said afterwards, "but you have to move on, and we say this every time we lose - you do. You just, you really do, you have to move on, regroup, you've got to go to Philly (this weekend) and take care of business.
"The thing that - the hardest part of it - is that it's six games closer to the end. That's the hard part. We'll regroup, you know, we still have faith in ourselves, we have faith in this team that we're going to get the job done."
The Mets now trail the Cubs (72-61) by five games for the second Wild card spot before hitting the road to face two other playoff contenders.
This weekend, they take on the Phillies (69-63) in a three-game set in Philadelphia before three in Washington starting Monday against the Nationals, who hold the top Wild Card spot with a record of 74-58.