Even by the Mets’ standards, the last week has been tumultuous.
So it was only fitting that it would end with an excruciating game, and another gut-wrenching defeat.
After nearly five hours of play that featured 39 strikeouts — including a franchise-record 24 by Mets pitchers — the Cubs took a 7-1 win on Saturday in 14 innings at Citi Field.
The game was tied, 1-1, for seven innings and nearly three hours before the Cubs erupted for six runs, four off Buddy Baumann, the sixth Mets reliever, and two off Gerson Bautista, who surrendered a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Javier Baez.
Once again, the Mets wasted a spectacular starting pitching performance, this time by Jacob deGrom, and once again their offense barely displayed a pulse. Cubs starter Mike Montgomery was followed by a trio of relievers, including Luke Farrell, who worked the last five innings, allowing no runs on two hits to earn the win.
The loss was the Mets’ seventh in their last 10 games, and it left them on the verge of being swept by the Cubs, who in Sunday’s series finale will start Jon Lester, owner of a 5-1 record in seven career starts against the Mets.
But how else was this week destined to end?
Over the previous seven days, the Mets’ bullpen had blown six games, their stadium caught fire, Noah Syndergaard and Wilmer Flores went on the disabled list, their manager blew a gasket over a missed cutoff man, and on Saturday night the team had to cancel a Todd Frazier T-shirt giveaway because of unspecified “quality control issues.”
That is not to mention General Manager Sandy Alderson’s calling out Yoenis Cespedes for taking too long to come back from a quadriceps injury or Manager Mickey Callaway’s mention of Cespedes’s $29 million salary in a news conference before Friday’s game.
“We paid him a lot of money to go out there and produce, and we don’t have him right now,” Callaway said.
On Saturday, Callaway tried to walk that back. “The reference was that he’s a great player,” he said. “That’s the reason he gets paid lots of money and it’s always tough on a team.” But the implication was clear: The Mets were losing patience over their lack of offense in the absence of Cespedes, their slugging left fielder.
That threw another wrench into Callaway’s plans. His original lineup had Bruce in right, Jose Bautista at third base and Kevin Plawecki, normally a catcher, at first in an attempt to jump-start the offense. In Bruce’s absence, the lineup had Bautista back in the outfield and Luis Guillorme at third.
“I think at this point the need for offense is paramount,” Callaway said about his original plan to put Plawecki and Bautista out of position. “And given who’s on the mound tonight, we felt comfortable going this route.”
Because if there was one player who could be reliably expected to pull the Mets out of a tailspin, it was deGrom, who came into the game with a 1.52 earned run average, the lowest of any National League starter. He had allowed just two earned runs over his previous seven starts, spanning 40⅓ innings.
The Mets got what they needed out of deGrom — seven innings of one-run ball, with 13 strikeouts to tie his career high — but not nearly enough out of the offense, which managed just three hits over the final eight innings.
DeGrom, who worked out of a first-inning bases-loaded jam by striking out Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber, allowed a run in the sixth on three consecutive singles, the final one a line drive by Anthony Rizzo that drove in Jason Heyward. DeGrom has not allowed more than one run in any start since April 16.
Michael Conforto, singled out for criticism by Callaway for overthrowing a cutoff man in the Mets’ 7-4 loss on Friday, spared deGrom from a heartbreaking defeat with a game-tying solo home run off Montgomery in the sixth.
Both teams had several opportunities to win the game: Three times in the first 10 innings, the Cubs loaded the bases, only to end each threat by striking out. The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the 13th, but Plawecki grounded out to end the threat.