ATLANTA — The energy that had buoyed the Mets during their consecutive winning streaks over the last three weeks was conspicuously absent Tuesday night. But the sting of a bad night at the office was dull in comparison to the possibility their best pure hitter will be lost for an extended period.
Jeff McNeil sustained a left hamstring injury trying to beat out an infield single in the ninth inning of the Mets’ 5-3 loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park, and now manager Mickey Callaway and Co., will wait for “further evaluation” to tell them if he will play again anytime soon.
On this night, Zack Wheeler was flat, and the lineup behind him equally unimpressive. A game that had a blah feel in the suffocating Georgia humidity ended with the Mets contemplating a two-game skid for the first time since their recent rebirth.
The Mets (61-58) hadn’t lost two straight since the Giants beat them in consecutive extra-inning games on July 18 and 19. Since then the Mets were 17-4, a stretch that had included winning streaks of seven and eight games.
As much as the Mets tried to make it a game against the Braves bullpen in the eighth inning, the significant rally needed became just a trickle, as Anthony Swarzak retired pinch-hitter Joe Panik with the tying runs on base. The Mets had scored twice in the inning, which included Juan Lagares’ fourth hit in a 4-for-4 night, an RBI single off Freddie Freeman’s glove. Other than Swarzak, another former Mets reliever recorded a big out in the inning, as Jerry Blevins induced Michael Conforto to hit into a fielder’s choice. In the ninth, Mark Melancon was perfect in recording the save.
After 15 scoreless innings to begin the second half, Wheeler turned in a clunker, allowing five earned runs on 12 hits and two walks over six innings. The right-hander was removed after 91 pitches.
Wheeler’s only real easy inning was the fourth, when he got Charlie Culberson to hit into a double play. The Braves extended their lead to 4-1 in the fifth, with Ronald Acuna smoking a leadoff homer on a full-count fastball. Acuna’s homer was his 34th this season as he continues to lurk in the National League MVP conversation.
In the fifth, Ender Inciarte swung on a 3-0 pitch and banged a grounder off the first-base bag that went for an RBI double, increasing the Mets’ deficit to 5-1. Brian McCann singled leading off the inning and reached second on a wild pitch.
Max Fried’s leadoff double in the second on a ball J.D. Davis couldn’t handle on a bounce led to the Braves taking a 3-1 lead on Josh Donaldson’s RBI single.
The lefty Fried frustrated the Mets by allowing one earned run on six hits and three walks over six innings. Fried entered with a 2.49 ERA in nine appearances against the Mets.
McNeil’s RBI single in the second got the Mets on the scoreboard after Lagares stroked a two-out single and Wheeler was plunked by a pitch. But Fried recovered to strike out Amed Rosario before the Mets could extend the rally.
Wheeler faced eight batters in a first inning in which he allowed to runs on four hits and a walk. Donaldson and Matt Joyce each delivered an RBI single in the inning, but after Inciarte walked to load the bases with two outs, Wheeler struck out Culberson looking at a full-count fastball.
Todd Frazier was thrown out at the plate to end the sixth, deflating the Mets after Lagares had stroked his third hit of the night, a single to left field. Frazier, who had doubled to deep center with two outs, was nailed on a strong throw from Acuna.