The Mets manager tried to censor himself, but television cameras can be unaccommodating. The word was out even if Sheffield isn't.
The visiting clubhouse produced few smiles and fewer laughs, but only after the offense had produced so few hits -- two -- and been shut out for the fourth time in nine games. The problem was compounded when Mike Pelfrey allowed a career-high nine runs in merely 4 1/3 innings. The forces at work created the Mets' second-most lopsided loss this season -- they lost 15-0 to the Yankees on June 14. And it stung.
Whatever their circumstances, the Mets still are not indifferent to losing. They still abide by the big league protocol that a loss is to be followed by hush in the clubhouse. They haven't turned their back on what is acceptable.
But another comment made by Manuel on Friday may be indicative of the team's mindset now after 13 losses in 18 games and after falling further from first place, 8 1/2 games, than they have been since late in the 2005 season.
The manager acknowledged a level of frustration and that "it doesn't outweigh my faith." But he footnoted that sentence of resolve with: "There are some things we can accomplish," emphasizing the "can." And those words had a feel of concession in them. All that was missing was "still."
Manuel went no further in that direction. This loss was merely a variation on the recent shutout/shutdown theme. The Mets had been held scoreless once in their first 60 games. Now they have been shut out seven times in a 29-game sequence. They have been held to four or fewer hits 10 times, five times in June and four times in their 13 games in July. Included in the 10 games are four in which they had two or fewer hits, three since June 23.
And what does it say about the National League that the Mets began the evening with the second-highest average in the league, .269? (Now it's .267.)
It should be noted that the worst possible scenario didn't revisit them as seemed to be the case at one point. Sheffield wasn't seriously injured. The problem that forced him to the clubhouse during the Braves' four-run rally in the fifth inning was diagnosed as cramps, as Manuel announced, not a muscle strain or tear. The Mets didn't even schedule an MRI. The injury they scarcely could afford didn't happen. The loss was enough. Now they are 2 1/2 games from third place. Mentioning first place is done for the benefit of those who recall 1973 and/or Coogan's Bluff.
The Mets mounted no resistance to Jair Jurrjens, the winning pitcher, perhaps as a belated part of the Braves' tribute to Greg Maddux, who had his number retired before the game. Jurrjens (8-7) was removed after six innings. Doubles by Sheffield in the second inning and David Wright in the fourth and two walks were the Mets' lone signs of offensive life against him.
At the same time, Pelfrey (7-5) was ineffective.
"I don't think I hit a spot all night," he said as part of his mea culpa. "I feel bad for the people who had to play behind me. It was embarrassing."
Then, he added his self-depricating remark: "They probably thought they were still taking batting practice."
Pelfrey lost for the third time in five starts, allowing the nine runs on nine hits and a walk. Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar, who hit the ball that Sheffield pursued in the fifth, drove in four and three runs, respectively. Each had three of the Braves' 14 hits. McCann and Martin Prado hit home runs. Pelfrey had allowed merely six home runs in his first 100 2/3 innings this season. Prado led off the third with his fifth, the first by a right-handed hitter against Pelfrey this season. McCann hit his ninth two batters later.
Pelfrey had hoped to get past his "big-inning" problem. He allowed three runs in one inning in his previous start. He allowed two three-run innings Friday, the first and the third, and four runs in the fifth. Elmer Dessens and Tim Redding allowed the Braves' other runs. But it was Pelfrey who perplexed Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen.
"In the bullpen," Warthen said, "he had the best stuff I've ever seen him throw. And he was throwing hard. But when he gets in the game, his velocity goes down, and he tries to guide the ball. We don't get to see the right Mike."
He was on display only in the fourth when he retired the side in order on ground balls. That had followed Manuel taking him down to the runway behind the dugout to explain what he wanted.
"The kind of stuff we saw after he gave up hits and got himself in trouble," Manuel said.
The manager said he didn't scold his pitcher.
"We can ill afford to have him pitching like that. We need to depend on him," Manuel said. "We need to get him fixed."
It's one of the things the Mets can accomplish. Still.