PHILADELPHIA — After the Mets rallied Wednesday to close their deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies to a run and loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, center fielder Keon Broxton worked the count full.
Phillies reliever Hector Neris proceeded to throw a fastball 94 miles per hour, and Broxton couldn’t catch up to it. He swung and missed, and the Mets had a 3-2 loss that dropped them to 10-8 overall.
Having played a complete series against each of his National League East counterparts, Manager Mickey Callaway took the measure of the division race.
“It’s a dogfight,” Callaway said. “It’s even exciting at the end.”
If Callaway’s crew is going to win that fight, it will need better pitching and more consistent run production.
Starter Zack Wheeler lasted seven innings on Wednesday, a considerable consolation for a struggling rotation on the day after Steven Matz had failed to record even one out.
But the Phillies took Wheeler deep twice at Citizens Bank Park, and after the game, the Mets said that a case of strep throat would force their ace, Jacob deGrom, to move his next scheduled start from Friday to Saturday.
Wheeler said that the homer by shortstop Scott Kingery in the fifth was a result of his leaving the ball up. Wheeler called the backdoor slider that he threw to second baseman Cesar Hernandez in the sixth a “dumb pitch.” Hernandez turned it into his second homer of the season.
“Those were two mistakes that cost me and cost the team a win,” said Wheeler, who went seven innings, yielded five hits and walked three batters. “I definitely need to cut down on the walks. Those have been killing me this year.”
The Phillies were patient enough to wait for Wheeler’s mistakes. In the second inning, they stitched together two singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly to score the game’s first run. Kingery then drove a 98-mile-per-hour fastball to right center for a solo home run in the fifth, his second homer of the season and of the series with the Mets. Hernandez stroked his homer over the right-field fence.
Wheeler’s inability to get ground-ball outs was the difference. Phillies starter Jake Arrieta allowed three hits through six innings. None of them left the infield.
Mets right fielder Michael Conforto managed to lift a 2-2 pitch into the second deck in right field for a home run in the seventh, but his teammates could not follow suit.
“We had opportunities all game and just didn’t come up with enough runs,” said Conforto, who homered for the second straight game. “We have to do a better job.”
The Mets were without starting center fielder Brandon Nimmo. He was unavailable after leaving Tuesday’s game in the first inning with stiffness in his neck. He felt his neck lock up on his first swing of the game, and said on Wednesday that he still could not look to the left.
“Up or down is still tough,” said Nimmo, who has received massages and other forms of treatment.
Nimmo was not the only Met in need of rest. The bullpen needed a start like Wheeler’s after Matz’s debacle.
Reliever Drew Gagnon, who had been called up from Class AAA Syracuse the day before, pitched five and one-third innings on Tuesday. It was the longest relief appearance by a Met in six years. Callaway commended Gagnon and reliever Paul Sewald for filling in and providing rest for the likes of Jeurys Familia, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman.
“They probably saved us for the next week,” Callaway said. “They probably helped us win a game in the next few days. It was unbelievable.”
For his efforts, Gagnon was sent back down to Syracuse on Wednesday. Jacob Rhame, a right-hander, was called up but did not appear in the game.
The most consistent part of the Mets’ approach so far has been their propensity to rally late.
On Wednesday, the offense came to life again in the ninth. First baseman Pete Alonso hit a grounder that ricocheted off Arrieta for an an infield single. Arrieta was done for the game after throwing 105 pitches. Adam Morgan took the ball and immediately hit Cano with a pitch.
Conforto followed, but he flew out to the warning track in right. Alonso advanced to third, and Neris came in to strike out J.D. Davis. Mets shortstop Amed Rosario beat out an infield single that scored Alonso to close within 3-2.
Neris then hit Mets catcher Ramos with a pitch on his left elbow. That brought up Broxton with the bases loaded.
As the Mets headed to St. Louis for a weekend series, they knew the Phillies would be waiting for them on Monday back in Queens.
“When we see them in New York, we have to put it all together, pitching, hitting, defense,” Conforto said. “We just have to do more.”