The latest Mets loss will be boiled down to one question: Should Mickey Callaway have left Steven Matz in the game?
He did not, opting for Seth Lugo with a one-run lead in the seventh inning. That is when the Mets lost control as Lugo, who was not good, allowed four runs, his most since surrendering five on June 15 ... 2018.
The Mets never recovered and fell, 6-4, for their third consecutive defeat. This one will sting, and it felt like a brutal loss from a month or two ago. It did not seem like something that would happen to the energized, inspired Mets we've seen lately.
New York entered the day two games back of a wild-card spot. The Mets are now only two games above .500, and if they are not careful, it could begin to slip away (though there is a lot of baseball left to be played).
There is a lot to unpack from Wednesday.
But before we discuss Callaway's decision, it is only fair to give credit where it is due. The Mets rallied in the ninth, with RBI singles from Amed Rosario and Luis Guillorme, to make it a two-run game.
The Braves then botched a double play, but a Met was called out at second live. Callaway challenged it. The Mets won, and instead of having two outs, they had the bases loaded with an out. The seventh-inning debacle almost became moot, but New York could not cap the comeback.
Now to the Callaway decision.
First, Steven Matz, at 79 pitches, hit for himself in the top of the seventh inning. He singled to begin a rally that brought home the go-ahead run at the time. But mysteriously, he did not return to the mound.
The Mets have Matz to thank for the fact that they had a chance to take a lead and win the game. He allowed a second-inning run, but eventually retired 14 in a row to keep New York in the game.
Matz did not have the opportunity to extend that streak.
There are a few points to ponder here. Does using Lugo in the seventh mean Edwin Diaz would have closed? If so, it might lead you to wonder why the Mets are comfortable using Diaz in close games considering he has not performed well.
On the other hand, you might think the debate over pulling Matz is pointless. Lugo, the Mets' most reliable reliever, imploded. It was uncharacteristic and shocking, especially because he is days removed from ending a streak of retiring 26 batters in a row (one more would have been a franchise record).
The way the Braves rallied might have been most surprising and scary.
Lugo walked Josh Donaldson to begin the frame. Then, Atlanta hit three consecutive singles to score the tying run. A couple were not smoked.
After those, Tyler Flowers grounded a ball to the right side of the infield. Pete Alonso tried to range to his right, but could not get it. Lugo did not cover first base, and everyone was safe. Atlanta took the lead.
The weirdest play came when Matt Joyce lined one to Michael Conforto, who slid and caught it after it hit the ground. Conforto fired to second for the force out – the first out of the inning – but another run scored.
Ronald Acuna, who has terrorized the Mets and most other teams, then singled home another run.
One after the other, the Braves handled New York's best weapon out of the bullpen.
Half an hour earlier, J.D. Davis had put the Mets ahead with a two-run bloop single into center field. The Mets finally received the clutch hit they needed in a big spot. They took a lead for the first time since Saturday's win over Washington.
It evaporated. You couldn't have seen it coming with a guy like Lugo on the mound.
This season, the Mets have suffered many cruel losses, some downright inexplicable. That part of the year appeared to be over when the team won 15 of 17 games and had you believing that something special could be brewing. The stretch fostered hope.
Wednesday provided an ugly, painful return to the past, with one decision at the center.