Paul Lo Duca was smarting after the Mets' ragged 8-2 loss to the Yankees, and not only because he had taken another pitch in his left arm. He is, he acknowledged, taking each loss harder than the previous one. The losses accompany him on his way home.
"I think I take them harder than a lot of guys," he said.
Nothing specific, but not a blanket indictment, either.
The Mets catcher and primary growler said his piece one week after Tom Glavine expressed similar thoughts.
"I don't think it's time to panic, but we shouldn't be happy," Glavine said after the Mets had lost for a second time to the Tigers. "We just got whipped. And we haven't been winning. It's time to start doing something about it."
The something the Mets did was lose five of six games. Glavine's thought after the second loss in three games to the Yankees was, "I hope there's concern."
And so it goes.
The losing has drawn lines in the clubhouse. Younger players don't want to give in to worry. They claim they're fine. Veterans know that 12 losses in 15 games is worth a worry and admit to it. They want to see some level of concern in their midst. And according to closer Billy Wagner, position players don't want to hear pitchers.
"A pitcher can't stand up in our clubhouse," Wagner said. "He gets laughed at because he doesn't play every day. "I wish I was in there every day. It'd mean we're winning."
Hidden somewhere in the words that Willie Randolph spoke before Sunday night's game was the degree of concern he has about his team's recent decline. The manager said that he wasn't overly concerned, which doesn't say how concerned he is. And Randolph softened that by saying that he "expected something like this."
Like this? Like 12 losses in 15 games?
"A down period of some length is inevitable for any team," Randolph said after the game. "You just don't know when it's going to come."
The Mets might have guessed June because the schedule-maker challenged them.
They are nine games into a 19-game sequence against teams from the 2006 postseason. The Twins, A's and Cardinals are the next three visitors to Shea Stadium. Then the Mets play four games against the Phillies, the team that stuck its foot out and tripped the Mets in the first week of June.
They're not on their feet yet.
"And it doesn't get any easier," Lo Duca said.
Expected or not, the losing is a hard truth. This one, the Mets' third defeat in their annual six-game Interleague engagement with the Yankees, redefined the nadir of their season and left them as a grand contradiction 67 games in -- a first-place team that is all about losing.
They retain the lead in the National League East -- by 1 1/2 games -- and little of the image they had merely three weeks ago, when their record was 16 victories better than .500 and their lead was five games. They have become quite "vincible."
Another layer of superiority was scraped away on Sunday night, when they offered little resistance to the sinkers of Chien-Ming Wang and Orlando Hernandez lost for the fourth time in four starts against his former team. The Mets managed six hits in their first exposure to Wang (7-4) who came within one out of pitching the first complete game against the Mets this season. Hardly a strikeout pitcher, Wang struck out 10.
He ended David Wright's hitting streak at 17 games, though Wright did score the Mets' first run, reaching base on a wild pitch while striking out in the seventh inning. He scored on a Carlos Delgado double. The second run was an after-the-fact deal, too, but it was driven in by Carlos Beltran, who now has one RBI and seven hits in his last 44 at-bats.
By then, the Yankees had forced Hernandez (3-3) from the mound. He was gone with two outs in the fifth inning, having surrendered six runs on seven hits, including home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, and a walk. "El Duque" has lost his last two starts, and the Mets have lost his three most recent.
"We're not helping each other," Wagner said. "We're not pitching well enough to take the burden off the hitters or hitting enough to help the pitchers. We're still a good ballclub, but we can't be taking the approach that, 'We're OK, we'll get back [to the playoffs]' -- not if we play this way and act like everything's OK. It's not.
"We have more talent than we had last year, but I don't think we have the same feel."