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ATL@NYM: Constanza steals second and gets banged up

NEW YORK -- On Saturday night, after the Mets had broken a five-game losing streak with four home runs and a win over Atlanta, the home clubhouse at Citi Field felt very much like a party. The guitar strains of the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn" blared through the speakers as players called to each other from across the room, teasing each other or celebrating someone's feat of power hitting.

But as Sunday afternoon turned into Sunday evening, that same clubhouse was much quieter. The Mets spoke in hushed tones, and where reporters' queries were met with smiles the night before, there were more questions than answers Sunday and only blank stares where the smiles had been.

That a ninth-inning ground-ball single by celebrated Mets nemesis Chipper Jones sent them to a 6-5 defeat and a loss of a critical three-game series was beside the point. On this day, the Mets not only lost a game, but maybe all that remained of their dimming playoff hopes.

Jose Reyes exited in the second inning with a strained left hamstring, the same one that cost him two weeks earlier in the season, and in the seventh, the Mets were dealt another blow. On a slide into second base, Braves outfielder Jose Constanza's cleat struck Daniel Murphy's left knee in such a way that Murphy needed to be helped off the field because he could no longer put pressure on it.

The injury-riddled Mets, now nine games out of the National League Wild Card race, will be forced to go on without both of their remaining .300 hitters -- one for at least a few days, and the other for what appears to be much, much longer. Though these Mets are too resilient to wave the white flag with less than two months left to play, one can't help but wonder just how they will make such a steep climb without two of their three best remaining hitters from a lineup that had previously lost David Wright for two months and Ike Davis for most of the season.

"I've never seen it," manager Terry Collins said of the injury outbreak that has plagued the Mets the past two years. "As I've tried to tell other managers, we don't lose them for two weeks, we lose them for a month."

Though Reyes has unquestionably been the team's best player this season, the injury to Murphy was the most jarring, both for its severity and its back story.

After Murphy was forced to watch Davis claim what had been his starting spot while he recovered from not one, but two injuries to his right knee in 2010, Murphy had trained all offseason in order to be ready for Opening Day. After winning the second-base job two weeks into the season, Murphy had put together a breakout campaign in which he was hitting .318 with an .807 on-base plus slugging percentage. But in one instant, all that work and all that success went down the drain.

Constanza's sliding cleat bounced off the bag and into the outside of Murphy's left shin, forcing his knee to buckle. Murphy took several hops into the outfield on his right foot before succumbing to the pain and going to the ground.

"You feel for Murph because you know how much he cares and how much he wants to be here and what playing this game means to him, and to see that happen to him, he's truly one of the good guys," Wright said. "Forget about going out there and winning the game, it's about hopefully that's he's OK and hopefully it's something that won't keep him out too much time."

Through everything that has befallen the club this season -- the trades, the injuries, the hard-luck losses -- the players have fought back, with everything they've had. Sunday was no different.

Trailing, 5-2, after the Braves hit three home runs off starter Dillon Gee, and already missing Reyes, the Mets tallied two in the sixth on a dribbler by Murphy and a bloop single by Reyes' replacement in the lineup, Willie Harris. In the seventh, after Murphy's injury so depleted the Mets' reserves that Wright would have to play shortstop for the first time since high school, New York improbably drew even on a double by Angel Pagan that snuck beneath a sliding Martin Prado in left field.

In the eighth, Collins was forced to make eight position changes just to keep his Mets afloat. The struggling and shifting were for naught, though, after Bobby Parnell loaded the bases in the ninth and Jones burst the Mets' bubble for the umpteenth time in his career with a bases-loaded grounder through the right side of the infield.

"I'm just glad one found a hole today," Jones said. "I enjoy playing here in New York on this stage.  It's rough and it's chaotic, but it's fun at the same time." 

Both Murphy and Reyes will have MRIs at the Hospital for Special Surgery, but even a best-case scenario will have Reyes out for several days and Murphy out long enough to be on the 15-day disabled list. While they are just two more casualties of what has become an unfathomably potent injury bug in Flushing these past few years, it does not appear the Mets have much time left for misfortune.

"It felt like it was about a 12-hour game and when we came in and sat down afterward, we joked around that we felt like we literally just walked off a battlefield," infielder Justin Turner said. "With the heat and with all the switching around and the grinding and coming back and tying it up, it was tough -- mentally and physically."

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