NEW YORK -- Fewer than 24 hours after losing what some are calling the game of the year to Milwaukee, Mets manager Terry Collins arrived at Citi Field in good spirits on Sunday, touting his team's resiliency in its heartbreaking defeat the previous day.
But Collins' buoyancy could do nothing to overcome the simple truth that the visiting Brewers, now winners of 22 of their last 25 games, are nearly unbeatable right now. For the second straight day, New York made a late comeback -- and for the second straight day, its rapidly declining bullpen allowed the Brewers to pull ahead when it mattered most.
Milwaukee broke a tie with two runs in the eighth off Manny Acosta, and secured a 6-2 victory with two more in the ninth. It was New York's ninth loss in its last 11 tries, and the first time the Brewers have swept a three-game series from the Mets in New York.
By the time it was over, Collins' determination had morphed into frustration, as a team that was once feisty and overachieving is looking more like a run-of-the-mill cellar dweller with every loss.
"We accomplished a lot of things this year -- overachieving with some people. And I'm very concerned about the players, just the way things have gone the last couple weeks," Collins said. "When Jose [Reyes] and [Daniel Murphy] went down, we had to pick ourselves up and we have failed to do that.
"We've played hard, we will continue to play hard. That will not be a factor, that will not be an issue. But we certainly haven't played well enough to win."
In what seems to be a recurring story this year, Mets starter R.A. Dickey once again pitched well enough to win, but didn't. Catcher Josh Thole said Dickey had possibly his best knuckleball of the season -- and it showed.
While Dickey allowed a solo homer to Casey McGehee in the fourth and gave up a run in the sixth on a pair of singles, he kept the Brewers off balance otherwise. Dickey struck out four and did not allow a walk in seven innings of two-run ball, an outing that would have gone longer if his turn at-bat hadn't come up with a runner in scoring position in the seventh.
Sunday was Dickey's fifth straight appearance in which he has thrown a quality start but not come away with the victory.
"One of the pitches that I swung at, if I didn't swing at it, it would have hit my chest or it would have hit the umpire on his foot," Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said of a second-inning strikeout. "It was hilarious. It, like, cut. I don't know. I'm not a fan of [Dickey's] knuckleball at all."
Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo was just as good. Through his first six innings, the Mets managed just three hits -- two by Angel Pagan -- and no runs. But in the seventh, David Wright singled through the right side of the infield before Lucas Duda came up with yet another big hit, a two-run, game-tying blast into the bullpen in right-center field.
Jason Bay followed with a double off the top of the raised wall in left field that likely would have put the Mets ahead were it hit in most other Major League ballparks. Instead, Thole failed to execute a sacrifice bunt and Jason Pridie popped out to second, before Gallardo intentionally walked Ruben Tejada to get to Dickey's spot in the lineup. Dickey's pinch-hitter, Willie Harris, flied out to right, and the game remained tied at 2.
Though he later tempered his statement by saying it might have come out of frustration, Collins said he made a mistake not letting Dickey go back out for the eighth.
"You know what, R.A. pitched a great game. I'll take this one," Collins said. "I have great confidence in my players, I really do. I think we can get the job done. I've obviously been wrong. We can't stop anybody. I should have stayed with R.A. and seen if we could keep the game tied. I thought we'd try to win there, but we can't just stop anybody."
Ah yes, the Mets' bullpen. New York's relievers came into the afternoon having allowed a run in 20 of their past 25 games, having posted the worst bullpen ERA in baseball during the month of August at 5.96. Sunday's game did nothing to stem the tide.
Manny Acosta began the eighth with a walk to Nyjer Morgan. Ryan Braun followed by slapping a fastball low and away through the right side of the infield to advance Morgan to third.
Tim Byrdak was summoned to face Fielder, after having success against him on Friday. Unfortunately, second baseman Justin Turner made an errant throw on Fielder's ground ball that shortstop Ruben Tejada couldn't corral. Morgan scored the go-ahead run, Fielder reached base and Braun moved to second on Turner's error.
Jason Isringhausen retired the next two hitters, but allowed a ground-ball single later in the inning to Jerry Hairston Jr. that put Milwaukee ahead, 4-2. Milwaukee padded its lead with two runs off Pedro Beato in the top of the ninth, before LaTroy Hawkins came on to close out the Mets.
"That's just the way it's gone," Collins said of a bullpen that has lost six games in August. "It ends up saying, 'You know what? Hey guys, somebody has to step up.'"
Though nobody in baseball is quite as hot as Milwaukee is, the road does not get any easier for a Mets team that is now six games below .500 for the first time since May 4. New York travels to Philadelphia for a three-game set with the best team in baseball, before returning home for a series with the likely playoff-bound Atlanta Braves.
If the Mets are to stop a feel-good season from slipping away, they're going to have to do it against the very best the National League has to offer.
"We can't mope around and feel sorry for ourselves," Dickey said. "Everybody can look at the schedule and look at who we're playing, and it's not going to get any easier.
"Our moms and our wives are the only ones who are going to feel sorry for us right now."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.