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The Mets’ level of desperation hit a peak in the fifth inning Tuesday night at Citi Field.
A roster freshly besieged by more injuries was facing a short bench and a taxed bullpen, which is how Monday’s starting pitcher, Jerad Eickhoff, found himself at the plate with a bat in his hands to break up Charlie Morton’s no-hitter.
Eickhoff mustered a swinging bunt, with his dribbler down the third baseline hit just slow enough to go for an infield single. It was one of only two Mets hits in the game on an otherwise brutal night — both health-wise and offensively — that ended in a 3-0 loss to the Braves.
The game got off to an unexpected start when Marcus Stroman exited after recording just three outs, due to left hip soreness. It put the onus on a Mets (37-31) pitching staff that already worked through two doubleheaders in the last three days, has another on Friday, and was facing the potential of another bullpen game Wednesday. But four relievers delivered eight strong innings to keep the Mets in the game for a comeback that never got started.
The Mets’ offense offered little help. It did not have a base runner until the fourth inning, when Morton hit Jeff McNeil and walked Billy McKinney. It did not have a hit until the fifth inning, when Eickhoff delivered his pinch-hit roller of a single.
The offensive struggles extend back to last week, when the Mets put together a 21-inning scoreless streak. That was snapped Saturday when Francisco Lindor provided all the offense in a 5-1 win over the Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader. Since then, they have scored eight runs in five games, with a new scoreless streak of 17 innings that they will bring into Wednesday.
James McCann chipped in the Mets’ second hit of the night with a double in the eighth inning, but he was stranded there when Kevin Pillar lined out to end the game.
The Mets, who have been rocked by injuries to position players, entered Tuesday ranked 29th in MLB, scoring 3.67 runs per game. Their strong starting pitching has been a major factor in them sitting atop the NL East, but their bats have struggled to carry their weight, especially of late.
Eickhoff was the second Mets pitcher to serve as a pinch hitter Tuesday, after David Peterson had done it in the third inning. With a parade of relievers filling the gap after Stroman, plus Jonathan Villar (calf discomfort) and Tomas Nido (hit by pitch on left wrist Monday) seemingly unavailable off the bench, the Mets had only three position players at their disposal: Pete Alonso (who was on deck to pinch hit when the game ended), Jose Peraza (who pinch hit in the eighth inning) and catcher Patrick Mazeika.
That run of relievers — Yennsy Diaz (two innings), Drew Smith (two), Aaron Loup (three) and Trevor May (one) — did an admirable job of getting through the ninth inning and giving the Mets a chance.
Diaz was the first to come out of the bullpen, having to warm up on the field, and immediately loaded the bases with no outs. But he struck out the next three hitters, the last of them Ronald Acuña Jr., to the roar of the crowd.
The Braves got to Diaz in the third inning, though, on Dansby Swanson’s three-run homer.
That was all it took to beat the Mets, who fanned 11 times across seven innings against Morton. AJ Minter and Will Smith completed the shutout by working the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
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