NEW YORK -- And the struggles continue.
The Mets' 8-3 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday was a summation of it all. The four-hour, 43-minute contest shined the spotlight on the nine losses in their last 10 contests. It dipped the Mets' record below .500 for the first time all season. The Mets were swept at home -- something they have managed to avoid all but one other time this season. What once looked like a promising position for the Mets to make a run at a playoff spot has seemingly vanished in a little over a week.
When the Mets headed into the All-Star break just a half-game game out of a National League Wild Card spot and six games above .500, the team seemed to be in positive spirits. A few sour games left the players believing they were better than their record indicated.
Nobody in the Mets' clubhouse imagined the team would lose eight of its first nine to start the second half. That is now a reality.
"There's no other way to put it -- we're not playing very well right now," catcher Josh Thole said. "Things are not going the way we want it to."
The Mets had mounted comebacks against the Dodgers in the first two games of the series, but came up short both times. Sunday, they finally poked their heads through to stick around into extra innings.
With the top of the order due up in the ninth inning, the Dodgers inserted right-hander Javy Guerra, who promptly gave up a leadoff single to Ruben Tejada. After Jordany Valdespin sacrificed Tejada to second, David Wright singled to bring runners to the corners. Ike Davis then grounded to first baseman James Loney, who bobbled the ball, allowing Tejada to score the tying run. Davis was called out at first, despite replays showing his foot beat the throw to the bag. Daniel Murphy then grounded out to end the rally in the ninth.
The Mets eventually lost on Matt Treanor's two-run single off Ramon Ramirez with the bases loaded and two outs in the 12th inning. That plated two, before Luis Cruz scored another with a single that got by Wright. Adam Kennedy then cleared the bases with a double that got over Lucas Duda's head in right.
"I thought Ramon was the perfect guy for Treanor," manager Terry Collins said. "Made some good pitches, and unfortunately, the ball got up the middle."
Collins might have had an apparent gripe with first-base umpire Mike DiMuro earlier in the inning, when Tony Gwynn was called safe at first base despite replay evidence to the contrary.
"We're sitting here with lots of opportunities to win this game, certainly that was a call we needed to have made, but I'm not going to blame the umpire for losing the baseball game," Collins said. "We had chances to win it before then."
Mets left-hander Jon Niese turned in his second consecutive quality start of the second half, but once again the offense couldn't back him while he was in the game. Juan Rivera's two-run home run in the fourth inning put the Dodgers up early, and the Mets were forced to play catch-up until they finally knotted the game up in the ninth.
The Mets countered the home run in the bottom half of the fourth on Thole's two-out single that scored Murphy from third, but a similar situation in the fifth ended in futility.
With runners on first and third and one out, the Dodgers replaced starter Nathan Eovaldi with reliever Scott Elbert. The left-hander then promptly got Davis to strike out swinging and Murphy to fly out to left, ending the Mets' early chances at tying the game.
While Eovaldi's outing was short, he was effective. He lasted just 4 1/3 innings, but allowed one run and struck out seven while scattering seven hits. The right-hander entered Sunday's contest with a .339 opponents' batting average against left-handed hitters, but despite a wealth of left-handed bats, the Mets could never translate their production off the Dodgers' starter into runs.
After the Dodgers tacked on another run off Niese in the sixth, the Mets responded with a run of their own in the seventh, when Murphy singled home Davis from second, cutting Los Angeles' lead to 3-2.
Niese ended his day in the eighth after throwing 97 pitches and allowing three runs on eight hits without issuing a walk. With that, the left-hander extended his career-long streak to 24 consecutive innings without allowing a walk. He left the game with runners on first and second with nobody out before Tim Byrdak and Jon Rauch combined to escape the inning.
"I just try and keep the team in the game, and our offense is really good," Niese said. "They do well battling back late in games, and it's our job as starters to at least keep us in the game."
The Mets' bullpen had to work 17 innings in the three-game series against the Dodgers, which doesn't bode well for the team's upcoming home series with Washington, which sits at the top of the NL East.
"It's very disappointing," Collins said. "We're not happy the way things have gone the past 10 days, so we've got to buckle down and get after it and get back over. We've got a tough three games coming up. We've got to pick ourselves up and get ready for them."
The Mets are now 4-12 since the start of July, and in the wake of the news that ace left-hander Johan Santana will miss some time, the future appears cloudy in Flushing.
"It's frustrating to lose. There's really no other way to describe it," Murphy said. "We still have a lot of baseball left, but it's frustration I think in a word."
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.