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Mets drop four-game series in Atlanta

Mets drop four-game series in Atlanta

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ATLANTA -- The Mets beat the Braves on Saturday afternoon. If their performance was marked on a curve, they crushed the home team. They executed, they amassed nine hits, they produced multirun rallies. And their starting pitcher provided seven scoreless innings. Then, just when you thought it couldn't get better, it didn't. Sunday night brought another game in the South and a chance for consecutive victories. And the Mets fell awkwardly to the occasion.

First came yet another personnel loss. Starting pitcher Fernando Nieve was lying on the Turner Field turf beyond first base in the top of the second inning, his pained expression telling the trainers the injury to his right leg, later diagnosed as a strained quadriceps, was severe. Nieve squirming in the grass was one more image that could serve as a logo for the Mets' remarkably damaged season.

By 9 p.m. ET, the Mets had produced another game consistent with that logo, their black and blue resolve and their strained record. They had endured a 7-1 defeat and given another performance devoid of resistance.

What followed the injury that is likely to force Nieve to the disabled list was another indication that the Mets are as dispirited and infertile as they are star-crossed. They scored fewer than five runs for the 12th time in 16 games, three or fewer for the 10th time in that period. And now there may be even greater reliance on their offense with the rotation undermined one more time.

"Now I can say it," Alex Cora said. "I've never seen anything like this. I probably could have said it last week, but now I'm sure of it."

It has been nothing short of piling on by whatever force now has eight Mets -- Billy Wagner, class of '08, included -- assigned to the disabled list. Nieve is a possible ninth as well as the second starting pitcher. "It's tough to take," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Especially in the area of pitching when we need that to stay competitive."

But how competitive are they? With Nieve's successor, Tim Redding, allowing five runs -- two earned -- in three innings, and their offense doing next to nothing, the Mets lost for the 14th time in 20 games and the eighth time in their past nine games against teams in the National League East. The loss that put their record five games under .500 again also put their deficit in the division standings at nine games, as it hadn't been since their 159th game in 2005.

Redding (1-4), his place on the roster not particularly secure, allowed a home run to his second batter, Yunel Escobar, in the second inning. The Mets tied the score in the third when Jeff Francoeur drove in Luis Castillo against winning pitcher Javier Vazquez. But the Braves (46-46) scored one run in the fourth, with Escobar driving it in, and five times in the fifth against Redding, Elmer Dessens and Pat Misch. Escobar had a two-run double in the rally.

Moreover, the defense made mistakes. Francoeur fiddled with a base hit that rolled into foul territory to allow an extra base in the fourth. And Cora was charged with an error when he didn't hold a low throw from Daniel Murprhy in the fifth.

That error came after the first of two walks to Ryan Church leading off innings. The Mets (43-48) also walked Nate McLouth four times after he didn't reach base in his first 16 plate appearances in the series. So it wasn't only Nieve's quad that hurt. His injury created "a different kind of silence on the bench," Manuel said. And that silence carried to the batter's box. His team totaled a mere six hits, five of them singles, and one walk against Vazquez (7-7) and two successors.

"He's real good," David Wright. "You can see him thinking along the way. He had at-bats when he threw four different pitches for strikes. When he has that kind of stuff and command, it's a long night."

And a 48th loss in a season likely to feel much longer before it ends.

"We still have 24 other players," Manuel said. "We still can get some things done."

In truth, Manuel had merely 23 available once Nieve went down. Gary Sheffield, still feeling the effects of the leg cramps he experienced Friday, might have been able to pinch-hit Sunday, but the Mets never created a situation where a more powerful bat might have made a difference. That circumstance is quite familiar to them. They have lost by at least five runs seven times in their 13 most recent games. In two others, they didn't score.

"There's not much we can do except try to find a way to get it done," Wright said. "Injuries haunt us. It's a string of bad luck. That's the story. It's not supposed to be, but it's happening, and we have deal with it."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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