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Mets fall below .500, prompting team meeting

Callaway implores club to 'play the game the right way' after 2-run lead evaporates in 7th
June 1, 2018

NEW YORK -- Shortly after the Mets' 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Friday, which dropped them below .500 for the first time this season, manager Mickey Callaway stalked into the clubhouse to do "something that I said we weren't going to do." Setting aside his distaste for team meetings,

NEW YORK -- Shortly after the Mets' 7-4 loss to the Cubs on Friday, which dropped them below .500 for the first time this season, manager Mickey Callaway stalked into the clubhouse to do "something that I said we weren't going to do." Setting aside his distaste for team meetings, Callaway implored the Mets to "play the game the right way." He called out Michael Conforto in particular for a sloppy defensive play. He urged fundamentals.
"We're not snakebitten," Callaway said afterward, referring to the notion that misfortune tends to find the Mets. "We're not playing the game the right way."
Since beginning the season 11-1, the Mets have gone 16-27 to fall to fourth place in the NL East, with a better record than just five National League teams. There has not been a singular culprit; injuries to stars such as Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard haven't helped, but the Mets have also gone much of the season without hitting consistently. Precious few bullpen arms have succeeded on a regular basis. Outside of Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, no Mets starter has inspired much confidence.

Friday's pitcher, Zack Wheeler, took a scoreless line into the seventh, at which point consecutive hits forced him from the game. The next batter, Kyle Schwarber, hit a sacrifice fly to Conforto, whose throw home soared above the cutoff man, above the catcher and nearly all the way to the backstop. Although reliever Paul Sewald was backing up the play, it allowed Thomas La Stella to scamper into second base; moments later, La Stella scored easily on Benjamin Zobrist's game-tying double.
"That's stuff that you learn when you're 18," Callaway said of Conforto's miscue.

The end result, the manager continued, was "a butt-kicking." Kristopher Bryant provided the go-ahead run with an RBI single off Sewald in the seventh, and Schwarber added to the lead with a three-run homer in the eighth. A late Mets rally fell short, sending everyone -- including Callaway -- into the clubhouse.
In his first two months as manager, Callaway had been reticent to raise his voice, hesitant to call out individual players, distrustful of the idea of rah-rah speeches or fire-and-brimstone rantings. Team meetings, Callaway said at one point last month, do not help pitchers throw strikes. They do not help batters hit mistakes.

Yet with the Mets in a 3-8 funk, the manager's tone changed on Friday. Jay Bruce described Callaway's message as "even-keeled with a purpose," imploring the Mets to "do the right things." Conforto called it "a bit of a wakeup call for some of us." Injuries may be omnipresent, Callaway told his team, but more than enough talent remains for the Mets to succeed in spite of them -- so long as they begin playing better soon.
"In the past, it's been early," Conforto said. "It's not so early anymore. It's getting to the time where we've got to start winning games."

Half an inning after Schwarber appeared to put the game out of reach, the Mets rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth when Adrian Gonzalez laced a single up the middle, plating Devin Mesoraco and Jose Bautista. The Mets presented Kevin Plawecki as a pinch-hitter and the Cubs countered with right-handed specialist Steve Cishek, who ran the count full before punching Plawecki out on a sinker through the heart of the strike zone.
Prior to the game, the Mets added a third catcher, Jose Lobaton, to the roster, specifically to free Plawecki for pinch-hit opportunities.

In addition to providing the Mets with an early lead, Brandon Nimmo's two-run homer in the third inning gave him big flies in consecutive games for the first time in his career. Nimmo has three home runs in his last five games and six in his past 17. In addition, four of his career-high seven homers have either tied a game or give the Mets a lead.
"He's been great," Callaway said. "He's obviously swinging the bat well, taking walks, things like that. We have a young player that's blossoming in front of us. I think that he's making a case for himself."

"Nobody wants to blow games down there. It's tough when we have to tell the starting pitcher sorry over and over again. It doesn't feel good. We'll right this ship, but it's been a tough go lately." -- Sewald
Already short on outfielders, the Mets lost another when Bruce departed after four innings due to lower back discomfort. Bruce called it "tightness" and Callaway referred to it as a minor spasm. Whatever the terminology, both parties expect Bruce to miss little or no time.
"I really don't anticipate it being serious," Bruce said.
In the midst of one of the most dominant runs of his career, deGrom will return to the mound for a 7:15 p.m. ET game Saturday against the Cubs. Over his last seven starts, spanning 40 1/3 innings, deGrom owns a 0.45 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 13 walks. But he is just 2-0 in those outings due to bullpen issues behind him. He'll oppose left-hander Mike Montgomery.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.