SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Mets go their separate ways during the All-Star break, they can take pride in their winning record. They can leave the West Coast happy with a 4-3 road trip, and they can find solace in the fact that three of their best hitters are on track to return to the lineup in a matter of weeks.
But they won't find much comfort in looking back on their last two games of the first half, the final one a 4-2 loss to the Giants in AT&T Park on Sunday that served as a reminder of just how much they might need Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis to keep their heads above water and avoid having their roster stripped apart by trades before the July 31 deadline.
And it's not just their bats the Mets are missing -- though they would be helpful -- as manager Terry Collins once again lamented his team's poor infield defense following the final game of the first half. The Mets committed two errors, one by center fielder Angel Pagan and the other by third baseman Daniel Murphy, just one day after their inability to turn a double play resulted in three runs and a tough loss.
Collins didn't want to attribute the defensive lapses to the fact that several of his players are lacking experience or have been playing out of position -- certainly a valid argument with Reyes, Wright and Davis no longer roaming the infield. Though Collins said playing in the cool, breezy weather of San Francisco should have been refreshing for his players, he admitted fatigue could have been a factor at the end of an exhausting first half of the season.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey pitched well enough in six innings of work, allowing two runs on eight hits and two walks, but he received no run support. The Mets managed to drive up the pitch count of Giants right-hander Matt Cain, but they failed to scratch across a run despite three doubles and a triple in Cain's six innings.
"You've got to keep it in perspective," Pelfrey said. "We came in here and faced three guys [Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Cain] that are going to the All-Star Game, so we didn't have an easy task in front of us. You've got to kind of keep it in perspective. We played well on the road trip."
The Mets thrived with runners in scoring position for much of the first half, ranking fourth in the National League with a .265 average in those situations and second in runs with 333, but they couldn't get it done this weekend, finishing 1-for-11 and stranding 10 runners Sunday. Much of the problem, Collins said, stemmed from the fact that the Mets were playing from behind Saturday and Sunday.
"You can't allow those guys to get the lead on you, as we saw today. And I thought we battled," Collins said. "I thought we had Cain on the ropes several times, and he got out of it, which those guys do -- good pitchers do. You can't let them have the lead. You've got to battle your way in and keep yourself in the ballgame and put up zeros."
Pelfrey put up zeros most of the way but still left AT&T Park with a loss. The right-hander surrendered a leadoff double to Andres Torres in the third inning, and Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz recorded consecutive run-scoring hits -- a double off the left-field wall for Sandoval and a single up the middle by Schierholtz, who finished 4-for-4 and is batting .458 on a six-game hitting streak.
"He's not just getting base hits. He's doing damage," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Schierholtz. "That's what you want from a corner outfielder."
Pelfry exited after six innings, and an unexpected pitcher took the mound to start the seventh: left-hander Jon Niese. Niese's first Major League relief appearance didn't last long, however, as he gave up two hits and recorded only one out. D.J. Carrasco entered in relief of Niese, allowing both of his inherited runners to score on consecutive RBI singles by Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand to give the Giants a 4-0 lead.
Collins said left-hander Tim Byrdak has pitched too many innings recently, so he thought it was a "perfect situation" to use Niese against the switch-hitting Sandoval and left-handed Schierholtz.
The Mets' first run came in the eighth, when Nick Evans blasted a 2-2 pitch from lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt into the left-field stands for his first home run of the year. Justin Turner's RBI double, his fourth hit of the game, produced a run in the ninth off Giants closer Brian Wilson and brought the Mets to within two runs before Wilson struck out Carlos Beltran to end the first half of the season.
So the Mets will break for the Midsummer Classic with a slightly bitter taste left in their mouths. But they will also do so with a sense of optimism, focusing on their overall first-half success and looking toward the second half with hope.
"The point is, we haven't given up. We didn't fold the tent in," Collins said. "We didn't just say, 'We're not good enough; let's shut it down.' That is what I'm most proud of these guys about. Because they believed in themselves, we are where we are. I'm more proud of the fact that they didn't quit on themselves or on each other and have rode this out. That's why I think no matter what comes down the road, I think they've learned something."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.