The Mets narrowly missed being no-hit by Padres righthander Odrisamer Despaigne, who used a baffling array of pitches Sunday afternoon to take his bid for history into the eighth inning.
But that didn't prevent them from absorbing a bitter 2-1 loss to the Padres, who won it in the ninth when Seth Smith hit a comebacker and reliever Josh Edgin stumbled while trying to field it.
"When he tripped, that pretty much told the story," said manager Terry Collins, who watched Cameron Maybin score the winning run as Edgin rolled around on the ground.
The Mets, riding high after an 8-2 homestand entering the All-Star break, began the second half by taking a body blow. In dropping two of three to the Padres, the resurgent offense stalled and the Mets reverted to their penchant for self-inflicted misery. They could hardly afford the mistakes on a day in which Despaigne captivated the Petco Park crowd with his chase for history in only his fifth big-league start.
The Padres, members of the National League since 1969, are the last franchise in baseball without a no-hitter. But in their 7,262nd game and their 46th season of play, they came within four outs of erasing that distinction.
Daniel Murphy's two-out double in the eighth ended the no-hit bid, then led to the Mets tying it at 1 when David Wright followed with a single through the middle of the infield.
But until then, the 27-year-old Despaigne lived up to the comparisons to fellow Cuban Orlando Hernandez. He hardly minds that, telling mlb.com earlier this season that he regards El Duque as "my idol since I was a child."
Last winter, Despaigne defected from the Cuban national team. Last May, he signed a minor-league deal worth $1 million. Last month, he made his big-league debut. And just like El Duque, deception has been his weapon of choice.
"It took us a little while to get to him," Murphy said.
Despaigne throws more slow curveballs, clocked in the mid- 60s, than he does four-seam fastballs that top out in the low 90s. The difference in speed -- and in arm angles -- presents yet another deterrent for hitters.
By the eighth, the closest the Mets had come to hits were a pair of long flyouts by Lucas Duda and Wright. But after Murphy rescued the Mets from potential embarrassment, they remarkably still had a chance to win.
The first order of business for the Mets after the All-Star break was a round of pitchers' fielding practice. It apparently did them no good.
Reliever Vic Black expedited the Padres' rally, walking leadoff man Carlos Quentin before allowing Alexi Amarista's sacrifice bunt to roll through his legs.
When Chase Headley hit into a double play, the Mets suddenly found themselves just one out from forcing extras. And Edgin appeared to have that out when Smith topped a ball toward the left side of the mound.
But Edgin stumbled as he fought against the momentum of his body. He rolled over the ball while it sat on the ground, reached for it, then let it slip through his fingers. "It's one of those no-man's-land plays," he said. "At least for me."
Though he recovered, it wasn't in time to get Smith.
The Mets continue a 10-game road trip Monday night in Seattle.
Said Collins: "We've just got to pick ourselves up."