Thursday's battle waged until shadows crept over the field, with neither team scoring until after McHugh left the game. Rockies outfielder Tyler Colvin greeted the first man out of the bullpen, Bobby Parnell, with a fly ball to center that Jordany Valdespin misplayed into a triple -- later bemoaning that "the ball jumped off the bat." The next batter, Chris Nelson, scored Colvin with a ground ball single up the middle.
And that was that. McHugh found himself stuck with a no-decision because, for the fourth consecutive game, the Mets could not crack Colorado's 30th-ranked pitching staff. They scored a total of five runs in the four-game sweep, against a team that allows an average of more than five per game.
Afterward, manager Terry Collins called it one of the most trying weeks he has endured "in a lot of years."
"It's frustrating for everybody," catcher Josh Thole said. "We're going on a week, and it's a nightmare. It's a nightmare for everybody in this clubhouse."
Still, the Mets enjoyed at least one promising development in Thursday's finale. On the heels of Matt Harvey's six strong innings Wednesday, McHugh replaced the injured Johan Santana in the rotation and, after giving up a leadoff double to Charlie Blackmon, retired 20 of the other 22 Rockies that he faced. That included 10 in a row to complete his afternoon, whiffing his final batter on a 69-mph curveball.
In the process, McHugh became the third Mets pitcher to throw at least seven scoreless innings in his Major League debut, and the first since Masato Yoshii in 1998. His nine strikeouts were the second most in franchise history in a rookie debut, trailing only the 11 that -- who else? -- Harvey fanned late last month.
"What else could you ask from a kid?" Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He did a great job. He had tremendous poise for his Major League debut."
Already rich with starting pitching (particularly for a non-contender), the Mets recently promoted two intriguing rookies in Harvey and McHugh. The former was a first-round Draft pick, groomed since high school to front a big league rotation. The latter was an 18th-round selection, forced to work his way methodically up the organizational ladder.
The former features upper-90s heat and sharp secondary pitches. The latter makes do with his lower-90s fastball and a four-pitch mix, his curveball in particular earning rave reviews from Collins and teammates.
The former expects to be here for a while. The latter may be, too.
Though McHugh is no lock to break camp with the Mets next season, his performance down the stretch could alter the way the team views him come spring. Often compared to Dillon Gee given his skill set and repertoire, McHugh could follow the path that Gee blazed in 2010 -- impress the Mets enough in September to position himself for an early-season callup the following year.
"Before the game, I think they said he was Dillon Gee, and that's exactly what I saw," Thole said. "He pounded the strike zone. He was able to pitch backwards whenever we wanted to, and that was the nice part about it. He gave us a lot of options."
But all routes these days circle back to orange-and-blue despair. The Mets have been shut out eight times this season, scoring two runs or fewer in six straight games for the first time since 1982. The Rockies, it is worth noting, are in last place in the National League West thanks in large part to that 30th-ranked pitching staff. But now the Mets are only a half-game out of last themselves, threatening to fall there for the first time this season.
"We're getting our [butts] kicked night in, night out," Thole said. "That's the bottom line. When it happens once, OK. When it happens again, 'All right guys, you've got to move on.' But three nights in a row? And then four? And then it keeps mounting up? You can only say, 'We've got to put this behind us' so many times before you've just got to go out and get the job done."