Mets bullpen implodes in 6-run eighth for nightmarish loss to Nationals

Just when the 2017 Mets seemed dead and forgotten came a flashback to that team’s not-so-greatest-hits.

These Mets can only hope Monday night was a blip and not an omen for a bullpen that is excelling, but has often been stretched to the brink.

In a gut punch, the Mets blew a five-run, eighth-inning lead against a hurting Nationals lineup and lost 8-6 at Citi Field.

“It’s one inning — it wasn’t even a game,” manager Mickey Callaway said after watching a parade of Mets relievers allow six runs to score in the eighth. “We outplayed them for the rest of the game. We just have to realize it was one bad inning, we didn’t get the job done. We’ll learn from it and make sure it doesn’t throw us into some kind of tailspin because we’re a real good team and we’ve been showing that.”

The Nationals, minus injured Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton, battled against a Mets bullpen that had pitched 11 ¹/₃ innings over the previous three days. It’s a bullpen that entered with a 1.51 ERA that ranked first in the major leagues entering play.

The Mets took a 6-1 lead into the eighth with Jacob deGrom rolling, but the combination of deGrom, Seth Lugo, Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia stumbled as the sparse crowd watched in stunned silence. Hansel Robles allowed a homer to Howie Kendrick in the ninth that gave the Nationals a cushion.

“You’re comfortable when those guys come in,” deGrom said. “You know they are not perfect. It’s going to happen and tonight we let one get away.”

Bryce Harper, who had smashed a broken-bat homer in the first inning, delivered a two-run single against Blevins that began the comeback. Before the inning was complete Ramos walked Matt Reynolds with the bases loaded before Wilmer Difo’s two-run single against Familia tied it. Familia walked Michael A. Taylor with the bases loaded to give the Nationals a 7-6 lead.

“How many times does that happen where everybody in the bullpen just pitches like that?” Ramos said.

Only adding to the Mets’ misery, Asdrubal Cabrera was thrown out at third base in the bottom of the ninth attempting to advance on a pitch in the dirt.

Cabrera’s two-run homer in the seventh had given the Mets a comfortable cushion with a 6-1 lead. The blast was Cabrera’s team-leading fourth of the season.

DeGrom pitched 7 ¹/₃ innings — the longest outing by a Mets starting pitcher this season — and allowed three earned runs on six hits with 12 strikeouts and one walk. He was removed at 103 pitches in the eighth with two runners on base, beginning the merry-go-round of relievers. Lugo walked Kendrick to load the bases, setting the stage for the massive implosion. Blevins then allowed the two-run single to Harper. With two outs, Ramos walked Reynolds to force in a run and Difo’s roller through the first-base hole against Familia tied it.

“I say it’s one of those days,” Familia said. “Everybody had it — every relief pitcher.”

Callaway surmised his relievers relaxed as deGrom cruised into the eighth.

“It shouldn’t happen, but maybe guys kind of shut down mentally,” Callaway said. “Then all of a sudden things get out of control and the next thing you know they are in a game when they thought they had no chance of pitching.”

The Mets got aggressive to add runs in the sixth. After Juan Lagares walked and stole second and third, deGrom executed a safety squeeze — that was kicked into foul territory on the first-base side by pitcher Matt Grace — to give the Mets a 3-1 lead. Amed Rosario’s ensuing RBI fielder’s choice added another run.

Todd Frazier continued a solid homestand with an RBI double in the third that gave the Mets a 2-1 lead. Michael Conforto was thrown out at the plate attempting to score from first on the play, as the Mets continued the aggressive base running that has helped define their season. This time the gamble was lost, with Conforto out by plenty on Glenn Sherlock’s send.

Harper amazed in the first with a broken-bat homer that cleared the fence in right-center to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Harper was left holding the bat’s handle as the barrel sailed behind him toward the on-deck circle, where it was retrieved by a batboy.

“That was pretty shocking,” deGrom said. “I heard the bat break and then I saw [Brandon] Nimmo, he just kept going so I said, ‘I guess that’s out of here.’ ”

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