NEW YORK — Noah Syndergaard walked off the mound, back to the New York Mets dugout and straight into the tunnel to the clubhouse, avoiding any interaction with teammates.
“Baseball’s just a really funny game,” he said.
Not the start the New York Mets were expecting from the pitcher they lined up to start in the NL wild-card game.
Syndergaard, the only healthy starter left from among the Mets’ heralded young pitchers, was chased in the fourth inning after allowing five runs, and the Mets’ wild-card run was slowed with a 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
“It stings a little bit because the last two weeks every win is critical,” Syndergaard said. “A disappointment that I didn’t go out there and get the job done.”
He started with a 1-2-3 opening inning, then retired Matt Kemp on a flyout with his first pitch of the second. But it turned into a 35-pitch inning that included a pair of walks and RBI singles. Freddie Freeman led off the third with an opposite-field homer to left and reached down to slice an opposite-field, two-run double in the fourth for a 5-0 lead.
“Obviously he lost the feel, he lost his rhythm,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “You’re looking at 11 pitches, he had four outs, and the next thing you know he couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.”
New York had won 11 of its previous 14 games. It leads the NL wild-card race by one game over San Francisco and St. Louis.
“If there’s any game that we’ve played in a long time that demonstrates that there’s no guarantees and no sure things in baseball, tonight’s the game,” Collins said.
Aaron Blair won for the first time in 13 major league starts, Freeman had four hits for the NL-worst Braves and rookie Dansby Swanson had three hits and three RBIs.
Pitching on five days’ rest rather than four, partly because he felts stiffness following his previous outing, Syndergaard (13-9) allowed eight hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings, and Atlanta fouled off 26 of his 99 pitches. He is set for two more regular-season starts before the wild-card game on Oct. 5 — if the Mets get there.
“You’re going to go into the playoffs looking at Noah Syndergaard as the guy that he’s got to pitch a big game,” Collins said. “He’s the guy you’re going to turn to.”
Aaron Blair (1-6) won for the first time in 13 big league starts. He did not allow a hit until the fourth, when Curtis Granderson singled and Pacific Coast League batting champion T.J. Rivera hit his third home run this month.
James Loney added an RBI double in the ninth on a ball that bounced past center fielder Ender Inciarte, who tried for backhand snag as he slid.
Loney and Granderson had three hits each for the Mets, who have lost four straight home games against the Braves.
“They came out swinging,” Syndergaard said. “They’re a pesky team right there, and they can really do some damage.”
Swanson swiped the 47th stolen base of the season off Syndergaard; Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson is second in the big leagues with 27 allowed.
TAKE A SEAT
New York benched outfielder Jay Bruce from the starting lineup for the second straight game, hoping the mental break will spark an end to his slump. Bruce pinch hit in the ninth inning and flied out, leaving him in a 3-for-34 slide. He is hitting .180 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 39 games since the Mets acquired him from Cincinnati.
Granderson was given the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, presented annually by the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity to the major leaguer best exemplifying Gehrig’s giving character.
Mets: LHP Steven Matz (shoulder tightness) is to throw a bullpen Wednesday and could rejoin the rotation later this week. He has been sidelined since Aug. 14.
RHP Robert Gsellman (2-1) is to start for the Mets on Tuesday and Julio Teheran (5-10) for the Braves. Gsellman made hit big league debut Aug. 23 and allowed four runs over five innings at Atlanta on Sept. 9.