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07/22/10 3:53 AM ET

Mets felled after bullpen's stellar effort

PHOENIX -- The team meeting took place some two hours before game time, consisting of the usual subjects. Defense. Focus. Fundamentals.

Fourteen innings later, however, nothing had changed. There was no spark Wednesday for the Mets at Chase Field -- only a collection of listless bats and another loss. This one, their sixth in seven games since the All-Star break, was a 4-3 walk-off defeat in 14 innings to the D-backs.

And it baffled them.

"Offensively, we're just not clicking," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "We've got too many guys that are not hitting, and that's not a good way to operate."

Against what on paper has been by far the worst bullpen in the Major Leagues, the Mets fell silent for eight innings. Strong pitching from six of their own relievers -- Oliver Perez included -- kept the Mets in the game until the 14th. But an overworked Fernando Nieve ultimately served up Chris Snyder's pinch-hit walk-off single.

Five extra innings were simply not enough for the Mets to score.

"We're not clicking offensively," third baseman David Wright said. "That's going to be a problem when you make your starting pitching and your bullpen be perfect."

Wright, in Wednesday's game, finished 0-for-5. Jose Reyes was 1-for-6. Carlos Beltran was 1-for-4. Those three pillars of this lineup, together again for the first since last May, have been utterly unable to gel as a unit.

Few believed that Beltran's return to the Mets would immediately spark the Mets, but fewer still anticipated this. The Mets are deflating, rapidly falling out of the playoff picture in the National League. With above-average hitters in their lineup from top to bottom, they have been completely unable to hit.

After D-backs starter Dan Haren gave the ball to the game's least successful bullpen in the seventh inning, the Mets mustered just one additional hit -- Angel Pagan's two-out single in the 12th -- the rest of the way.

It was hardly a winning formula.

"You deal with a little adversity, you deal with a lot of adversity," left fielder Jason Bay said. "It tests you a little bit."

More than any Met this week, Bay has struggled. Whiffing in each of his final four at-bats Wednesday, the left fielder finished 0-for-6 to descent into an 0-for-12 slump with eight strikeouts dating back to Monday. He has not hit the ball with any authority because he has not hit the ball, period.

"Just lost," was how Bay described his condition after the game. "Just struggling. Battling."

Partly due to the grind of 14 innings, but mostly due to Bay's struggles, Manuel vowed to shake up his lineup for Thursday's series opener in Los Angeles. Bay will start the game on the bench. Rod Barajas, who extended Wednesday's game by homering off Haren in the sixth, will receive an unscheduled breather. Beltran will take an off day.

Benching regulars could be dangerous for a Mets team struggling to hit the ball, but right now, the Mets have no choice. They may still have a winning record and they may remain within a short burst of first place, but they are scuffling. The mood in the clubhouse has become as somber as it has been all season.

Quite simply, the Mets cannot understand why a lineup full of All-Stars cannot hit. These three games in Arizona were supposed to mark the easy part of their 11-game, three-city road trip.

"We swept a pretty good team," Haren said. "I mean, that Met team is pretty good. They play in a tough division and they're fighting for a playoff spot, so these games mean a lot for them."

Indeed they are and indeed they do. As Manuel noted in his team meeting prior to the game, the Mets are still a contender. Despite Wednesday's rather persuasive evidence to the contrary, they still have a shot at this thing.

But it's fading fast.

The Mets have been unable to take advantage of strong starting pitching -- Jon Niese's five-inning performance Wednesday was his shakiest in a while. And they have been unable to cash in on the rare occasions that their leaky bullpen has held.

On Wednesday, the Mets received three scoreless innings from Raul Valdes, one apiece from Elmer Dessens, Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell, and even four outs from the newly activated Perez. That doesn't happen often. The Mets knew that. And still they were unable to win.

Now they are heading into Dodger Stadium hauling more pressure with them than they have all season. After this latest loss, Wright noted that all games count the same in the standings -- and technically that's true.

Wednesday, though, it sure didn't seem that way.

"We just didn't hit," Manuel said. "We did not hit. That's the bottom line."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.