ATLANTA — Be honest: the whole night, did you ever truly believe the Mets were comfortable? Did you ever think you could switch to the hockey game for more than a few minutes, or the news channels?
That’s the thing about a struggling team stuck in quicksand. No lead is ever big enough. No cushion is ever secure enough. Three runs? Four runs? Doesn’t matter. Trouble is always lurking. Disaster is always looming. How many runs is enough? When you’re on the treadmill to hell the way the Mets are right now, enough is never enough.
“We just couldn’t get that last out,” Buck Showalter said.
This has always been a city of fun-house mirrors for the Mets anyway. But this trip was extra special. Tuesday they blew a three-run sixth-inning lead. Wednesday they blew a three-run sixth-inning lead — with Max Scherzer on the mound. Thursday they spotted the Braves and the usually reliable Spencer Strider a 3-0 lead and somehow found the fortitude to fight back and build a 10-6 lead, even though Justin Verlander had given them virtually nothing in three lifeless innings of work.
They were still up three with five outs to get when the ominous vibes that haunt bad baseball teams began to stir and buzz and whistle and howl, sometimes taking the form of the lights-out Tomahawk-chop chant the Braves still use when an opposing relief pitcher comes in. Old friend Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run blast to make it 10-9.
The Mets had a chance to run it back the next inning, loading the bases with one out. Teams on a roll score that run — score two or three, in fact. Teams with their toes on the abyss do something else: Omar Narvaez strikes out. Mark Vientos strikes out. The lead remains one skinny run heading into the ninth. Not enough. Of course.
Oh: the Mets had won their previous 122 games when leading after eight, you say?
Did that matter? At all? Did it surprise you at all when Orlando Arcia slammed one to the Alabama state line, tying the game? And were you even still watching when Ozzie Albies walked it off with a blast that nearly reached South Carolina, finally ending the fiasco at last, 13-10?
If you were, kudos. Baseball is supposed to be fun. Baseball, right now, as practiced by the Mets is anything but fun.
“It was almost a great win,” Showalter said.
It was almost a great series. It could have been a season-defining series — and may wind up being that, though not in the way the Mets had hoped. When the Mets bled out their season here last year, the teams seemed laughably disparate, and the Braves bullied the Mets right out of first place. The Mets weren’t just competitive this series, they landed a few uppercuts.
And lost all three times. Before Tuesday, the Mets had played 9,699 games in their history. They had never before lost three straight games when leading by three runs or more.
They have now.
This is the part of a June baseball column where we are required by law to offer disclaimers. There are still 99 games to play. The Mets are still only 3 ½ games out of the wild card. They are still only 8 ½ games behind the Braves. Last year on the morning of June 9 the Mets were seven up on the Braves. Lots of season left. All true.
But so is this, encapsulated in the words of David Robertson, who surrendered Arcia’s game-tying blast when he was asked for the sixth time to get a multi-inning save: “We’re frustrated. You can sense it. You can see it. We’re a good team and we’re not doing what we’re capable of doing.”
They are, in fact, a fourth-place team closer in the NL East standings to Washington than Atlanta. Baseball looks very hard for them right now.
They are a team bursting with laments. They wait to hear the official diagnosis of their best player, Pete Alonso, who missed the game waiting on word about his banged-up wrist. Jeff McNeil, last year’s MLB batting champ, has somehow managed exactly one extra-base hit in his last 34 games. The co-aces have just been filleted by the very team they were expressly hired to beat.
On and on, stuck in the quicksand, every day a new study in how to kick away baseball games. And summer doesn’t even start for 12 more days.