NEW YORK — The New York Mets were never going to end up 161-1, so their second loss of the season — a 5-1 defeat to the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field on Saturday night — was no cause for alarm in and of itself.
And yet, even during the winning streak, subtle cracks in the foundation had begun to appear. Injuries knocked out both of their catchers in recent days, and their starting pitchers had the disturbing tendency to last no longer than six innings.
Those cracks created a feeling of discomfort that could only have increased at the sight of Matt Harvey, the erstwhile Dark Knight of the starting rotation, giving up two long home runs Saturday.
“This was not good,” Harvey said after allowing four runs on eight hits in five innings. “I just have to be better than that. We had a good streak going, but tonight, this loss is on me, completely, I think.”
Not completely, because the Mets’ offense, which averaged five runs over its first 12 games, was stifled by Brewers starter Chase Anderson. He held them hitless for 4 2/3 innings and left the game with one out in the seventh, having surrendered just an infield single to Amed Rosario and a bloop single to Yoenis Cespedes that drove in the Mets’ only run.
Brewers reliever Josh Hader easily shut the Mets down over the final two innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced.
But Harvey’s performance was far more alarming than the offense’s sputtering. He had offered cause for optimism in his first start this season — allowing just one hit over five shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 3 — but showed signs of regression in his second outing, when he allowed four runs and nine hits over five innings against the Washington Nationals on April 8.
The Mets won both of those games, but in his third start Saturday, Harvey virtually took them out of it by serving a fastball that Jonathan Villar sent just inside the left-field foul pole for a three-run homer in the second inning.
Two innings later, Jett Bandy, who had hit all of 15 home runs in his previous three major league seasons, rifled a 2-0 fastball into the left-field seats to give Milwaukee a 4-0 lead. The Brewers got their final run on a homer by Orlando Arcia off Hansel Robles in the ninth.
Harvey, who looked dominant in the first inning, hitting 95 mph on the radar gun and needing just 11 pitches to get the first three outs, gradually lost the steam on his fastball. It was measured at 91 to 93 mph for the remainder of his outing.
Yet he stubbornly stuck to that pitch and his slider, which had been a lethal combination in the seasons before injuries robbed him of the lightning in his right arm.
“I think I got fastball- and slider-happy in the first couple of innings and put myself behind,” said Harvey, who fell to 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA.
But manager Mickey Callaway saw the problem as Harvey’s not trusting his secondary pitches, his change-up and curveball, enough to keep the Brewers off balance.
“I just didn’t quite see the confidence that I had seen in him before,” Callaway said. “Tonight I didn’t see him attack as well as I’d seen him throughout spring training and the first couple of starts. I think everybody has to use all their pitches to kind of offset guys at times. You have to show the other ones at least, even if you don’t have a great feel for them.”
Paul Sewald replaced Harvey and was effective, pitching three hitless innings and striking out five. But once again, the Mets needed four innings out of their bullpen, underscoring another early-season concern for Callaway.
Relief work from Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, former starters who have no trouble throwing multiple innings, has eased the burden somewhat. But as Callaway pointed out before the game, “Historically, if you lead the league in bullpen innings, you’re going to lose about 96 games.”
Considering the Mets’ hot start, that seems highly unlikely.
“It’s Game 13, you know?” outfielder Jay Bruce said. “We’ve got a lot of games left, and I look forward to those.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.