As the innings passed and the Mets' bats remained quiet in a 6-2 loss to the Braves Tuesday night at Citi Field, the attention of a crowd of 26,227 inevitably drifted to the out-of-town scoreboard high atop the leftfield stands. The news there gave comfort to Mets fans because a Nationals' loss to the Orioles maintained the Mets' NL East lead at 6½ games while reducing their magic number to clinch the division to six.
The Mets had one golden opportunity to piece together yet another late-game comeback when they loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Pinch-hitter Michael Cuddyer got one run home with a sacrifice fly off reliever Edwin Jackson, but Wilmer Flores grounded out to end the threat.
In the top of the ninth, reliever Tyler Clippard gave up a two-run double to pinch-hitter Adonis Garcia, putting the game out of reach. At least another page came off the calendar.
Asked if the Nationals' loss made it a positive day, Terry Collins said: "No, we've got to play better. We've played great at home all year, and all of a sudden we've hit a wall. We've got to swing the bats better. We're a better offensive team then we've shown this homestand."
Logan Verrett started the game for the Mets in place of Jacob deGrom, who skipped a turn in the rotation for much-needed rest. Verrett's first two starts were in place of Matt Harvey, as he went eight innings in a win in Colorado and pitched five-innings of one-run ball in a win over Miami. He did not get the decision in that one, but Verrett brought a sterling 1.38 ERA into the Braves game.
Asked about the difference Verrett has made, Collins said, "It's huge. If he hadn't had success, we'd be pitching somebody else today. This isn't just 'grab anybody.' We think he's the guy, and he's proven us right. He's done a good job."
Braves leadoff hitter Nick Markakis reached base on an infield single when David Wright couldn't get the ball out of his glove, but Verrett retired the side in short order. In the bottom of the first, Wright drilled a first-pitch 94 miles per hour fastball from Braves pitcher Matt Wisler over the wall in center to stake Verrett to a quick 1-0 lead.
Daniel Murphy followed with the 225th double of his career, tying Ed Kranepool for second on the Mets' all-time list, but Yoenis Cespedes fanned and Lucas Duda popped up. That missed opportunity hardly seemed to matter as Verrett retired 12 of 13 Braves through the fourth inning.
But Braves second baseman Jace Peterson led off the fifth with a home run to rightfield to tie the game at 1. Michael Bourn then reached base on a one-out infield single and was sacrificed to second by Wisler. The Mets chose to walk Markakis intentionally to set up the force play, but the strategy backfired when Hector Olivera delivered a three-run homer for a 4-1 lead.
That was all for Verrett, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth. Despite the breakdown in the fifth, Verrett showed plenty in the first four innings to rate a postseason roster shot.
The Mets had a chance to cut into the Braves' lead in the sixth when Murphy blasted a ground-rule double, No. 226, into the rightfield seats with one out in the sixth. But Cespedes, who struck out for the second time in the fourth and failed to run to first when the pitch got away to the backstop, flew out to right.
Murphy tagged and made it to third but was stranded when Lucas Duda flew out.