Niese unravels early as Mets drop finale in Atlanta
Lefty allows seven runs on seven hits, six walks over four-plus innings
ATLANTA -- For the first time in days, the sun peeked through clouds above Turner Field late Sunday morning. Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia poked his head out of the dugout, shaking his head at the incessant rains that had soaked the area. The only sounds were from general manager Sandy Alderson, whose sneakers squished as he jogged around the still-damp warning track.
It was the last bit of serenity the Mets were able to enjoy. Hours later, sloppy defense and poor control led to an all-out assault on Jon Niese, who lasted four-plus innings in the Mets' 9-4 loss to the Braves.
"Today is one of those outings that I just want to forget about," Niese said. "It's embarrassing."
Initially seeming primed for a pitchers' duel with Tim Hudson, Niese entered the third inning locked in a scoreless tie. But after the Braves took a one-run lead on Justin Upton's RBI single, Lucas Duda sprinted in on Freddie Freeman's fly ball over his head, misplaying it into a two-run double.
"The backdrop was kind of white," Duda said, explaining his mistake. "It's tough to get a read on the ball. I just got beat."
Niese never recovered, in a sequence that prompted manager Terry Collins to bemoan that "we didn't have a good inning." Call it an understatement. Freeman was next to score on a wild pitch, one of three by Mets pitchers in the game. Dan Uggla walked, one of six that Niese issued. Then B.J. Upton singled off David Wright's glove on a play that could have been ruled an error, and Reed Johnson followed with a run-scoring hit.
"We got a lot of pitches on Niese really early and we worked the counts, got into hitters' counts, and were able to put some contact on some balls and get them in the outfield and get them in the gaps," Freeman said. "It was a nice day."
Collins hypothesized that Niese was "too strong" given two extra days of rest following Saturday's rainout, and the defensive mistakes behind him certainly did not help. Though the Mets did not commit a single error, they were unable to make plays on at least four balls that glanced off gloves or landed on the turf, directly leading to several of Atlanta's runs.
"There were some balls that they hit against the shift, and a couple balls that found some holes," Wright said. "There were a lot of balls that were just out of reach, and a lot of times, especially against these good teams, that's the difference in the ballgame."
Niese managed to leave the bases loaded and navigate a perfect fourth inning, but reloaded them in the fifth on two walks and a single that shortstop Ruben Tejada could not corral. That brought Collins out of the dugout, leading to Johnson's two-run single off Familia. Freeman tacked on a solo homer an inning later, plunging the Mets into a six-run hole.
Hudson, for his part, was hardly perfect, but plenty good enough given such rich offensive backing. The right-hander retired six straight to open the game, cracking only slightly when Wright launched a two-run homer in the fourth. From there, Hudson retired seven of the next eight Mets and 12 of 14.
The Mets did score twice in the eighth inning, bringing the potential tying run to the plate with two outs. But Marlon Byrd struck out against Eric O'Flaherty to end the threat, swinging at a ball out of the strike zone on a full count.
"He's a good pitcher," was Byrd's only analysis of O'Flaherty.
And yet it was only two days earlier that Byrd's solo homer off O'Flaherty gave the Mets late life in a game they eventually won. Collins called that win his team's best of the season, lauding the Mets' ability to erase one-run deficits in the eighth and ninth innings, then take the lead for good in the 10th.
The next day, a group of Mets coaches gathered at Turner Field, where they learned that Saturday's game would be rained out. It frustrated Collins, who watched helplessly earlier this season as a series of postponements disrupted his team's momentum.
"We were playing good baseball, then we get some weather and it kind of breaks the momentum a little bit," Wright said. "But that's life. That's baseball. We've got to find a way to regain that momentum."