CHICAGO -- The surest way for the Mets to deflect negative attention on Tuesday would have been to win. Many of them spent their afternoons addressing owner Fred Wilpon's comments to The New Yorker magazine, an uncomfortable exercise for all parties involved. But players are often quick to note that the field can be their sanctuary. Victories can be antidotes.
If that script existed for the Mets, however, it blew away with one of the wind currents swirling throughout Wrigley Field. The Mets committed three errors Tuesday, walked four batters and allowed 13 hits, dropping an 11-1 game to the Cubs.
"I saw the same thing you guys saw, and that is we didn't play very good," manager Terry Collins said. "We have not played like this in a long time, but maybe it's out of our system now. This is very uncommon and very uncharacteristic of the way we've played and the way we're going to play."
Second baseman Ruben Tejada proved to be the early catalyst for the Cubs, dropping Aramis Ramirez's soft line drive to lead off the second inning. Ramirez was awarded a hit on the play. After a strikeout of Carlos Pena, Mets starter Jon Niese appeared to catch a break, inducing a ground ball and watching Daniel Murphy's throw beat Ramirez to the plate. But catcher Ronny Paulino dropped it and Niese unraveled after that, allowing hits to the next two batters.
Darwin Barney drove in two runs later that inning and Starlin Castro plated another, before Niese finally put an end to the 10-batter outburst. Four of the five runs he allowed were unearned.
"I didn't think they hit any ball hard," Niese said, calling Castro's hit the exception. "They just hit it in the right spot. It's one of those things where when it rains, it pours."
Those runs were not the only trouble for Niese, who also allowed an RBI triple to Castro in the fifth -- nor was that miscue the only issue for Paulino. Recently vaulting over Josh Thole on the depth chart, Paulino committed a second error on a pickoff attempt to first base in the sixth, resulting in another run. And Fernando Martinez didn't help during the Cubs' four-run rally in the seventh, when he also made an error.
"We didn't make any plays," Collins said. "A lot of things happened that, had we made some plays tonight, the game doesn't get out of control."
"It didn't look like a night when you're going to score runs," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "Barney's hit was huge. You combine base hits with taking advantage of a few mistakes -- if you can't put runs on the board then [something's wrong]."
Before the game started, the underlying message for the Mets was one of focus. The team and its ownership had spent the previous 36 hours addressing the fallout of Wilpon's comments to The New Yorker, specifically those critical of players Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. Their varied responses contained one common thread: the importance of focusing on baseball.
Niese, for one, did seem focused, hardly glancing up from his iPad Tuesday afternoon as press conferences took place all around him in the visiting clubhouse. But some of that focus seemed to evaporate following Tejada's misplay and Paulino's error. The evidence was in the results.
Not that the errors or pitching mistakes might have made much difference. The Mets could do next to nothing against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, scoring once on Reyes' fifth-inning single but otherwise staying clear of the base paths.
By the time the game reached the later innings, Collins had grown liberal with his use of substitutions, removing Beltran and Willie Harris from the game, relying on seldom-used Pat Misch on the mound and giving Jason Bay a chance to rest his stiff right calf. (Bay, who left the game in the seventh, expects to play Wednesday.) As for those at the center of Wilpon's criticism, Reyes finished 2-for-4 and drove in a run, while Beltran was 1-for-4 and struggled to combat Wrigley's swirling winds on defense. But Collins, who called a formal team meeting prior to the game, was adamant that his team was not distracted.
Said the manager: "We just chalk it up as a game we didn't play very good."