PHILADELPHIA -- Jose Reyes has accrued 394 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park over the years, and many of them have offered outcomes more interesting than when he pinch-hit for Noah Syndergaard in the top of the fifth inning of the Mets' eventual 4-0 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday night.
Reyes struck out after Tomas Nido did the same, and three batters later, Michael Conforto would become Zach Eflin's ninth and final punchout of his five scoreless frames. Not much changed against Philadelphia's bullpen; the Mets logged six hits Wednesday, none of them for extra bases and were shut out for the 12th time in 2018.
"We had some chances early and we didn't capitalize on them," manager Mickey Callaway said. "Then they started cruising. They started mixing and matching, and we just couldn't get the job done."
New York went to Reyes because offense could atone for the 3-0 deficit and the fact that Syndergaard labored through 89 pitches in four innings, tied for his shortest outing of the season. The right-hander allowed two home runs -- a first-inning solo shot to Rhys Hoskins and a two-run homer to Odubel Herrera in the fourth -- for the first time since Opening Day. Syndergaard struck out six and walked three.
At this point, though, final scores and stats are not what New York values most. The Mets were eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week. With Wednesday's loss, they were guaranteed a second straight losing season. The last two weeks of the 2018 campaign are valuable to gain perspective for the offseason and a '19 season that can be better.
"In 2015, we went on that huge run, it was the best time of my life," Syndergaard said. "... Over the last few years, it's been really difficult as a player. At the end of the season, we have to be able to reflect on how this season went."
One reason for optimism is a Mets rotation that has posted a 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, a mark bested by just two Major League teams. It's a group led by Jacob deGrom, the frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. Zack Wheeler, now shut down because he's pitched so many good innings, might have been better than deGrom over the last two months. And Steven Matz, aside from his newfound home run stroke, has a 2.29 ERA over his last six starts.
Syndergaard, whose ERA in an injury-riddled season rose to 3.36, has likely two starts remaining to cement a spot in that group with outings less like Wednesday's and more like the complete game he tossed earlier this month and the seven scoreless innings at Fenway Park on Friday. Getting acclimated to a delivery adjustment, he said, is what can do that.
Syndergaard noticed within the last year or so that his front shoulder flies open and allows hitters to pick up his pitches no matter how hard he throws them. Per Statcast™, Syndergaard's sinker has averaged 97.3 mph this season but produced a 15.4 percent whiff rate. His four-seamer, at 97.7 mph, is even lower at 13.5 percent.
Mechanical changes, Syndergaard hopes, will boost those figures. It's just not that easy when he's been throwing a certain way since being drafted eight years ago.
"It's something that's been ingrained in my mind for the longest time," Syndergaard said. "It's just trying to break down those motor units and start over."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Amed Rosario's steal of third base in the fifth inning made him the first and only Met to get that far. But with Rosario and Jeff McNeil aboard, Conforto whiffed on the eighth pitch of his at-bat, a 3-2 changeup from Eflin, to end the chance. Eflin's nine strikeouts tied a career high.
Rosario recorded his 11th game of the season with three or more hits, four have which have come against the Phillies. Rosario batted .369 against Philadelphia this season.
Devin Mesoraco, who hasn't played since Sept. 3 because of stiffness in his neck and back, is nearing a return. He'll catch deGrom on Friday, Callaway said.
HE SAID IT
"We don't want to have a losing season, that's for sure. I don't want to be one game over .500 and not make the playoffs, either. I think the playoffs and winning a World Series is the ultimate goal, and we fell short of that." -- Callaway
The Mets will conclude the final road trip of 2018 with a four-game set in Washington, starting with Thursday's 7:05 p.m. ET matchup against the Nationals. Veteran left-hander Jason Vargas (6-9, 6.47 ERA) is scheduled to face Nats ace Max Scherzer (17-7, 2.53). Vargas, who had his start pushed back so Syndergaard could pitch on regular rest, owns a 3.09 ERA over his last six appearances.