PITTSBURGH -- Add up all the hits, errors and runs that went against the Mets on Friday night, all the misplays, misfortunes and misery, and the number becomes almost too galactic in scope to understand. Too vast.
Distilled to its essence, it looks something like what unfolded in the third inning at PNC Park.
The Mets were in a tie game when Carlos Santana hit what, under most circumstances, would have been a routine inning-ending double-play ball. But as Francisco Lindor attempted to transfer it from his glove to his throwing hand while taking a step toward second base, he lost his grip on the baseball. It fell to the dirt. Both runners were safe. And then everything else that could go wrong absolutely did.
The next four batters circled the bases on a menagerie of hits, a walk and another error, before the Pirates -- an upstart team, but hardly a surefire contender -- finally retreated to their dugout. The lead they had built was easily big enough to sit on for the remainder of a 14-7 Mets loss that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score implied. It was enough to send the visitors to their seventh consecutive defeat. The Mets haven’t dropped this many games in a row since 2019, nor have they been this far out of first place since the final day of the ‘21 season.
Their losing streak has invited talk of job security of their manager and GM, not to mention critical looks at the franchise’s record-shattering payroll. It has coincided with a significant injury for Pete Alonso and a cratering of the team’s starting pitching production.
Most of all, it has simply been difficult for them to endure.
“I want to say it’s just part of the season, but we’ve been saying that way too long,” Lindor said in a silent postgame clubhouse. “It’s time to turn the page. It’s time to be better. We’ve got to be better. Plain and simple, we have to be better. I have to be better.”
On this night, Lindor was a culprit, despite his game-tying homer in the third inning that gave the Mets a temporary breath of life. But he was far from the only culprit. Starter Tylor Megill wobbled after Lindor’s key error; seven of the career-high nine runs against him were earned. Eduardo Escobar committed a throwing error of his own, Starling Marte pulled up short on a two-run double he could have made a closer play, Francisco Alvarez dropped a foul popup well within his grasp, and on and on and on.
“I don’t know if it’s shocking,” Lindor said. “I think it just sucks.”
The question is how to fix it. Following a dispiriting three-game sweep in Atlanta, manager Buck Showalter did little to invoke a sense of urgency, saying he was “proud” of his players for keeping all three games close. The following morning, talk radio and social media flared with irritation over the state of things in Flushing. More than one pundit invoked Bob Klapisch and John Harper’s seminal book about the 1992 Mets, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy,” which chronicled the follies of a roster that cost $45 million to build.
With Competitive Balance Tax penalties added on, the 2023 Mets are on the hook for more than 10 times that amount. They’re on pace to win only four more games than their ’92 counterparts did. By the end of Friday’s blowout, none of Lindor, Marte, Brandon Nimmo or Alonso -- the four highest-paid position players on this roster -- were in the game.
Asked if the Mets perhaps suffered from a hangover effect following their dramatic series in Atlanta, Showalter replied: “It looked like it.” The manager harped on his team’s defensive issues, while Lindor chided himself for an error that he considered mental, not physical. He and his teammates, Lindor added, need to remaster “the basics of baseball” if they hope to have any chance of changing their fortunes. Megill searched for words before landing on the same ones as everyone else: “Play better.”
“I have a lot of confidence our guys will respond and play better as we go forward,” Showalter said. “But tonight was not one of those days.”