CINCINNATI -- Statistics indicated that if the Mets wished to topple the Reds on Tuesday, they would need to do so early. New York bused into Great American Ball Park with the league's 30th-ranked bullpen, a sore point for the club all season long. The Reds prepared to counter with the Majors' top-ranked bunch.
As the two teams took a scoreless tie into the later innings, those numbers loomed ever larger. But it was not until the ninth inning that they became reality, when Josh Edgin served up Jay Bruce's walk-off three-run home run in a 3-0 loss to the Reds.
"You've got to get your runs early," catcher Josh Thole said. "You've got to keep their bullpen from entering the game."
Against the Mets' bottom-ranked relief corps, the Reds took a different tact.
Entrusted to protect a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth, Manny Acosta walked the leadoff man and served up a scorching single to the next batter, Ryan Ludwick, to put the Mets in danger. With the left-handed Bruce due up next, Mets manager Terry Collins immediately called for Edgin, who ran a 1-2 count on Bruce before giving up the game-winner.
"We were taking good at-bats, we just couldn't get that hit to bust it open," Bruce said. "Fortunately, a couple guys got on and I was able to end it."
Seeking consistency out of starter Chris Young, the Mets instead received a dose of effective inefficiency. Despite putting a dozen runners on base in his 5 2/3 innings, Young did not allow any of them to score. A line-drive double play in the fifth inning helped him out, as did several well-timed popups and strikeouts. The result, despite eight hits and four walks, was his first scoreless outing of the season.
"It's tough because you don't want to put too many baserunners on, because the park can play small at times," Young said, noting that he strategically walked batters on multiple occasions throughout the night. "But ultimately, you just try to give the team a chance to win, and unfortunately tonight, we couldn't do it."
They could not do it in large part because Reds starter Mat Latos was more efficient than Young, allowing him to stick around longer. Latos allowed only seven baserunners over seven scoreless innings, striking out four.
It helped, of course, that once Latos left, the game's best bullpen relieved him.
"We had a couple opportunities to score and we didn't," Collins said. "When you've got runners at third base with less than two outs, you've got to score or else this team's going to beat you. They've got power. They've got speed. They've got outstanding pitching. So when you've got a chance to score, you've got to score."
As Collins indicated, it was not as if the Mets had no chances. They put their first two men on against Latos in the fourth inning, then loaded the bases with two outs. But Young lined out to end the inning. Their next-best opportunity came in the ninth, when the Mets put two runners in scoring position against Jose Arredondo with two outs. Again, a lineout ended the inning.
The Reds also had plenty of early opportunities, as evidenced by all the hits, the walks and the men left on base. Cincinnati stranded multiple runners in the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings, putting the leadoff man on a total of six times.
Four of those six reached base against Young, knocking him out of the game and creating a battle of the bullpens.
It was a battle stacked against the visitors.
The Mets entered the night sporting the league's 30th-ranked bullpen, its 4.99 ERA nearly two-tenths of a run worse than Milwaukee's 29th-ranked mark. In 115 games, New York's relievers had absorbed 15 losses and blown 17 saves.
Compare that to Cincinnati's relief corps, which had compiled a 2.66 ERA -- more than a quarter-run better than anyone else in baseball -- and racked up more than 2.6 strikeouts for every walk. The Reds' closer, Aroldis Chapman, is a dark horse National League Cy Young Award candidate who did not even appear in the game. Sean Marshall, who pitched the eighth inning, is a former closer. Jose Arredondo, who pitched the ninth and earned the win, possesses the repertoire to be one also.
"Yeah, they're good, but we're good, too," Edgin said. "When we make our pitches, we're good. We could still be playing that ballgame."