Mets blow huge lead to Braves en route to 11-10 defeat

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By Justin Toscano The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) (TNS)

Forget any of the Mets’ previous losses this season. Frustrating as those may have been for fans, this one topped them all.

It’s not close, either.

This meltdown turned a good night into a sour one, a step forward into at least two steps back. It brought you back to last season, when the Mets blew many games in inconceivable ways.

On Friday night at Truist Park in Atlanta, New York jumped out to a six-run lead and led by four as late as the eighth inning.

The Braves plated five in the eighth, the final three coming across when Travis d’Arnaud — yes, a former Met — lined a go-ahead double off Seth Lugo.

The Mets lost, 11-10. Instead of pulling their record back to even, they are 3-5 with five games remaining on this road trip.

This night was going perfectly. The Mets’ offense, a perceived strength that has been a weakness thus far this season, exploded. Multiple hitters had great nights.

It turned out that the bullpen, the team’s best group this season, blew it.

Up four runs, manager Luis Rojas went to Dellin Betances, the heralded offseason signing. He allowed four runs while only recording one out. From his first pitch, it was clear he did not have it.

It began when Dansby Swanson singled home a run. Rojas then left Betances in to face Freddie Freeman, and Betances walked him — except ball four was a wild pitch, which allowed Ender Inciarte to race home from third and barely beat a throw from Wilson Ramos to Betances, who sprinted to cover the plate.

Rojas then went to Lugo, who is seen as the Mets’ most reliable reliever. He was their only reliable reliever last season. It seems they possess more options now, but on nights like these, when others don’t perform, they still count on Lugo.

Lugo walked Marcell Ozuna before getting Johan Camargo to fly out. Two outs.

D’Arnaud, however, burned his former team.

He smacked one into the outfield, three runs scored and, suddenly, the Mets trailed.

Finally, the Mets’ hitters came through … only to lose.

To this point, they’ve faced many questions about their inability to collect timely hits. They lost their last two games because they failed to hit with runners in scoring position. Early in this shortened season, their perceived strength — their lineup — has often been a weakness.

Given all of that, Friday night must have felt good — at least until the final two innings.

The Mets exploded for a six-run fifth inning and put together multi-run innings before and after that. They hit three home runs and six different players drove in runs. Five days after they were blown out by Atlanta, the Mets scored double-digit runs.

Unfortunately, it did not matter.

It still might represent a step forward, though.

Robinson Cano homered and hit an RBI single. Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto drew bases-loaded walks. Yoenis Cespedes lined a two-run double, representing the timely hit the Mets had missed out on the past two nights.

When the fifth inning began, the teams were tied, 2-2.

When the top of the fifth ended, the Mets led 8-2.

In that six-run inning, the Mets scored more runs than they had in five games this season. It marked their highest-scoring inning of the season.

What might have been most encouraging is this: They showed actual signs of improvement.

The last two days, Rojas had discussed how his hitters were becoming anxious when they would step up to the plate with men on base. They would ditch their plans and would begin chasing pitches.

Against Jhoulys Chacin, who relieved starter Sean Newcomb, Alonso and Conforto worked walks of five and six pitches, respectively. The latter checked his swing in a 3-2 count but didn’t go around. They showed patience.

The Mets passed the bat from one man to the next. No one tried to do too much.

And then there was Cano, who had his best game of the young season. Faced with questions about his underwhelming 2019 and whether he’s on the decline, Cano has remained confident. He insists he’s still himself.

He led off the fifth inning with a home run off Newcomb, who was charged with six earned runs. Later in the inning, as the Mets batted around, Cano drove in another run.

In the middle of it all, with the bases loaded, Cespedes drove in two with a hit that probably lifted a large weight off the Mets.

The Mets have maintained that they aren’t concerned about the early-season offensive struggles. Rojas candidly provided his thoughts on why his guys couldn’t push across necessary runs in key spots in the previous two losses.

In this fifth inning, the Mets proved they can be that explosive team that quickly runs up the score.

The only issue: The offense and the pitching traded places. This time, the bullpen let down the bats.

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