Just when there was a glimmer of hope that the New York Mets were going to surprise the baseball world and build an enormous divisional lead in the National League East, the Washington Nationals came to town.
And then the wheels fell off.
The Mets have dropped two-straight games, questionable managing pairing up with an inability to execute in key situations, something the team had done so often during their 12-2 start, the best in franchise history.
Entering this week's series against the Washington Nationals, tabbed the divisional favorites entering the season, the Mets had a chance to make an even bigger statement by pushing their rivals further down the standings. Prior to Monday night's series opener, the Mets held a six-game lead over the Nats which meant another sweep — New York swept Washington in the nation's capital last weekend — would have built their advantage to a whopping nine games.
The chance was there considering Washington was without Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, two of their best hitters behind star Bryce Harper.
And after Jacob deGrom's stellar seven innings on the mound, the Mets had a seven-game divisional advantage in the bag thanks to a 6-1 lead. But deGrom was pulled with one out in the eighth and manager Mickey Callaway played musical chairs with his overworked bullpen, using four relievers in an attempt to stymie a Nationals rally.
It didn't work. Washington scored six in the eighth and another in the ninth to steal an 8-6 win, a true gut punch to a Mets team that was soaring to start the year.
Things didn't get better on Tuesday night as the Nationals ensured that New York would lose its first series of the season, a 5-2 decision once again raising questions about Callaway's decision making.
It was the bottom of the sixth inning and the Mets had clawed their way back from a 3-0 deficit to make it a 3-2 affair against Gio Gonzalez, a pitcher that has regularly dominated at Citi Field.
With runners on first and third and just one out, Callaway chose to pinch-hit Jose Reyes to pinch hit for Zack Wheeler. The veteran switch-hitter was the Mets' only right-handed bat to face the southpaw, Gonzalez. But Washington went to the pen and brought in another lefty in Sammy Solis, who actually fared worse against left-handed batters (.227) than he did righties (.218).
Callaway stayed with Reyes, who was 0-for-16 to start the season while looking completely lost in the process. There were plenty of other options on the bench, even if they were all left-handed. Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Adrian Gonzalez — bats that have actually produced this season — were available to pinch hit in such a crucial situation.
Instead, Reyes didn't reward his manager's faith as he was unable to get the tying run in, striking out in feeble style. Amed Rosario ended the inning with a popout.
It was the closest the Mets would get as the Nationals put across two more runs to secure a second-straight win.
These were two winnable games. Two games that would've built the Mets' lead to a hearty eight games in April. Instead, the shorthanded Nationals leave Queens with a much slimmer advantage which could come back to haunt the Mets in six months.
Don't ever say games like these don't matter in April. And after everything he touched turned to gold over the first 14 games of the season, Callaway has encountered his first true speed bump as an MLB manager.