From Gnats to Crazed Hornets

Sometimes the path you don't take leads to disaster. Noah Syndergaard and the Mets re-learned the hard way Sunday afternoon. And it wouldn't necessarily be a consolation to remind them that they did take two of three from the National League East-leading Nationals over weekend.

Syndergaard was already pushed back to Sunday because biceps and shoulder discomfort. That compelled the Mets to send Matt Harvey out against the Braves — an outing for which Harvey wasn't even told until the same morning, leaving him two chances to prepare properly: slim and none — and get his and the Mets' jock straps knocked off.

Scheduled for an MRI Friday, Syndergaard — whether gutsily or foolishly is anyone's guess — declined the MRI, protesting he knew his own body better than anyone on the planet. Okay, Thor, you've got the Nats Sunday afternoon. The problem was that, between Syndergaard's weakened condition and the still-overworked Mets bullpen, the Nats got the Mets, but good, all day long.

Syndergaard had nothing to show the Nats except dodgy stuff and, with the Mets opening a first-inning 1-0 lead, hittable enough stuff that the Nats shoved the Mets into a 5-1 hole before the bottom of the first was over. By the time the Nats hit in the second with the lead chipped down to 5-2, Syndergaard grabbed his right side in a hurry after throwing Bryce Harper a count-evening strike two and came out.

There do come times when gutting it out ends up having your guts stripped and whipped. And if it means your team has to go to a beleaguered-enough bullpen that early, stripped and whipped is liable to turn into pureed in enough of a hurry.

Four Mets relievers and counting were evidence enough. So were a small parade of Nats bats owned by men distinctly unwilling to take pity upon the walking wounded. After all, the Mets showed little mercy winning a second straight on Saturday after Adam Eaton tore up his left anterior collateral ligament, hitting the pad awkwardly on a close ninth inning play Friday night and ending his season post haste.

By the time Sunday ended in a 23-5 burial, the Mets must have looked back longingly to Jay Bruce hitting one over the center field fence off Washington starter Joe Ross to close the Mets to a 6-5 deficit in the top of the third. But right after that the Nats got the real party started. They might have been swatted away like pesky gnats in the first two games of the set, but they attacked the Mets Sunday like a swarm of crazed hornets.

The problem is that the Mets' number one exterminator, Yoenis Cespedes, is on the infirmary shelf for several more days. Not to mention such fly swatters as Lucas Duda, Steven Matz, and Seth Lugo having to wait out their injuries. Now Syndergaard, who'll probably be led to the MRI at gun point if need be, putting even further strain on a staff barely getting its horses back if he, too, ends up on the disabled list.

It was the worst possible time for Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon to swing into the history books so far as the Mets were concerned. He became the first Nat to drive in ten in a game, thanks to a 6-for-6 afternoon that featured three home runs, reminding the Mets of what they miss at the plate with Cespedes among the wounded. And he was the number one reason the Nats scored more in one game Sunday than the Mets scored over the two they won Friday and Saturday.

Sean Gilmartin, a somewhat fresh callup from Las Vegas, contained the second-inning damage after Syndergaard's 5-run collapse, but he surrendered a one-out bomb to Rendon in the third. Gilmartin helped his own cause in the fourth when he hit a first-pitch RBI double, scoring Matt Reynolds, and scored on Michael Conforto's followup single to shallow right, closing the deficit to one.

But two singles and a sacrifice fly awaited him from the Nats in their half before Daniel Murphy singled to push Bryce Harper (the second single) to third. Then Rendon proved his third-inning launch was just batting practice, hitting a three-run homer not far from the landing spot of the previous skyrocket.

Then Gilmartin got three outs. And the Nats got themselves a 10-5 lead. And you'd barely asked whether it could get any worse, after Matt Albers got rid of the Mets in order in the fifth, when the Nats answered with one of the loudest yeses to be heard up and down the East Coast.

Fernando Salas relieved Gilmartin for the Washington fifth. Trea Turner said hello with a long double to open. The Mets put Harper on on the house after Jayson Werth flied out and the gambit almost worked as Ryan Zimmerman grounded to third, pushing the runners up one. The trouble was Rendon deciding to make himself the pest of the day, sending a three-run double to the back of right center.

"Don't leave me out of the fun!" Matt Wieters said, leading off the Washington sixth with a solo bomb off another beleaguered Mets reliever, Josh Smoker. And Smoker's miseries were only just beginning.

An inning later, Zimmerman opened with a first-pitch double, Murphy doubled him home promptly, Rendon singled to left, and Murphy scored while Jose Reyes, playing shortstop as he had in older days, lost the handle and let Rendon have second on Michael Taylor's grounder. Then Smoker let Wieters have something too delicious to ignore, and Wieters hit it over the center field fence.

It was Kevin Plawecki's turn to get three swift outs after the damage was done. You could almost sense Gilmartin's temptation to say, "Welcome to the club." Except that, by then, Gilmartin probably didn't want to jinx either Plawecki or the next poor bull to be run forth from the Mets' punctured pen. Or bench. The fact that Plawecki is usually the Mets' backup catcher, now taking one for the team, was entirely beside the point.

The good news was Plawecki getting three outs in the bottom of the eighth. The bad news was getting them after Harper opened by hitting a ball-one pitch into the right center field seats, Zimmerman following that promptly with a base hit, pinch hitter Adam Lind following that with a shot over the center field fence, and Rendon immediately blasting one into the left field bullpen.

Did we mention Rendon is only the fourth player in Show history to have a 6-for-6/three-bomb day? The company in which he travels: Shawn Green (Dodgers, 2002), Edgardo Alfonso (Mets, 1999), and Ty Cobb (Tigers, 1925). But he broiled more steaks in his than they did in theirs.

If any Mets were raised to be fans of the Beatles, they were probably singing "Help!" long enough before Rendon teed off for the third bomb. After the game, they probably changed to "Tomorrow Never Knows." Turning off their minds, relaxing, and floating downstream must have sounded like a too-wonderful idea.

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