PHOENIX -- It may not be breaking news, but baseball can be a frustrating game. For weeks, Mets manager Terry Collins has been drilling into Dillon Gee the importance of trusting in his secondary pitches, particularly in his curveball. In his most recent start, Gee had thrown a disproportionate amount of fastballs early in the game, making it too easy for opposing hitters to guess what was coming.
So Collins had to nod his approval when, six pitches into Friday's outing against the D-backs, Gee dropped a first-pitch curveball into the zone against Justin Upton. And he had to cringe when, three pitches later, Gee went back to the curveball and Upton blasted it for a solo homer.
With that mistake, the D-backs took a lead that they would never relinquish, holding on for a 4-3 victory behind Ian Kennedy at Chase Field. Gee was left to reflect on yet another start gone awry.
"It goes to show what's happening right now with Dillon," Collins said. "He gets frustrated with something and, if he doesn't make a good pitch, he gets away from things. He's got to stick to what's made him successful."
In the early innings, Gee did not. After Upton redirected his second curveball of the game into the left-field seats, Gee abandoned his hook for more than a full turn through the batting order, throwing another 39 pitches without one. During a second-inning rally in which the D-backs scored two runs on Cody Ransom's double and another on Kennedy's single, Gee threw nothing but fastballs and changeups -- precisely the sort of pattern Collins has encouraged him to avoid.
"Obviously, it's pretty frustrating out there when you give up hits like that," Gee said.
"He made the pitch," catcher Josh Thole said of Upton's blast. "The guy hit the home run. You've got to move on from there, and he knew that."
Gee's fastball, the Mets know, can be relatively hittable. His changeup, perhaps his best pitch, is just one of three secondary offerings in his arsenal. When he is thriving, Gee can command all four of his pitches to all corners of the strike zone.
It was largely that strategy that allowed Gee to become the Mets' most valuable pitcher in May and early June, when he compiled a 7-0 record and 2.86 ERA to start the season. Since then, he is just 3-4 with a 5.61 mark -- increasingly relying on his high-80s heater.
Call it stubbornness. Call it diffidence. Whatever it is, on Friday it plunged his team into a hole from which it could not recover.
Though the Mets attempted to rally on multiple occasions against Kennedy, the D-backs' starter, they stranded a combined seven runners on base in the third, fourth and fifth innings -- scoring only on Jason Bay's RBI double in the fifth. Another run came on Jason Pridie's RBI groundout against David Hernandez in the eighth inning, followed by a sacrifice fly from Willie Harris in the ninth.
"Give the Mets credit," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "They played just as we talked about before the game today -- very scrappy. We got them down early, which we haven't been doing, and they just kept coming at us."
But the Mets could not push across the final run of their comeback, instead losing their third consecutive game and ninth in 12 tries. Two of their three victories during that span required dramatic late-inning rallies at Citi Field.
Some days, offense has been the problem for the Mets, while it's been pitching on others. Such is life for a team relying largely upon young players such as Gee, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada. Even when Bay, David Wright and Angel Pagan reach base a combined seven times, as they did in Friday's game, the Mets still cannot count upon on a consistent offensive attack.
Even so, they are hesitant to give in to what could be an ugly August and September. Following Friday's loss, both Collins and Bay warned against relenting to the so-called "dog days of summer."
"I think most of us in here are aware that that is an option, that is a path you could go down," Bay said. "Sometimes, the more you try to stave it off, you make it bigger than it is."
To avoid it, the Mets need Bay to hit home runs. They need Pagan to resurrect his season. They need Gee to throw more curveballs.
Simply put, they need to win more games -- and they need to believe that they are not a bad team.
"If you start thinking about that stuff, you start getting caught up in it -- that old 'woe is me' attitude," Collins said. "And I'm not having that here. I refuse to have it."