The Mets, who went into Sunday as the second-highest scoring team (5.18 runs per game) in the Major Leagues, have scored four runs or fewer in six of their last seven games. The Mets lost six of those seven games and dropped to fourth place in the National League East on Sunday.
"We came into the last six games swinging the bats great. I do not have an answer for it," said manager Terry Collins. "I really and truly don't. Preparation was good. The weather was good. We certainly can't complain about that. ... We just didn't hit. Like I told some of the guys in there, 'We'll pick it up again. Stay positive. Keep doing what you've been doing. Don't try to change.'"
It had all seemed so promising in the first inning, when leadoff man Ruben Tejada doubled off Cole Hamels. Wright came away with a one-out single to give the Mets their first run, but Hamels worked his way out and only allowed two more baserunners to reach scoring position.
Hamels walked six batters, tying a career high, but he kept the Mets from taking advantage. New York's best chance came in the fourth inning, when it loaded the bases on three walks. That brought up the pitcher's slot, and Hamels escaped by striking out Jon Niese.
"It seemed like whenever we hit the ball hard, it was right at somebody," said Mets catcher John Buck of the team's extended struggles at the plate. "For the most part, we're working counts. We're getting them high in their pitch counts. We're just not getting that hit that floods the runs in."
The game's true crucible came in the seventh inning, and it included a strange play that helped swing the momentum. Buck ranged behind the plate and tried to catch a foul pop with two outs in the seventh, but he dropped it by the screen and gave the Phillies new life.
"We were out of the inning. We didn't make a play," said Collins of that key moment. "In our game, at our level, if you give teams extra outs, they're going to do some damage."
That's exactly what happened. Laynce Nix singled to keep the rally alive, and Jimmy Rollins pushed him into scoring position with another hit. Collins elected to go to Scott Atchison in that spot, and Howard greeted him by stroking a two-run double off the base of the wall in center field.
"I was trying to make a good pitch, low and away, right there on 2-0," said Atchison. "I didn't execute the pitch. It is what it is at this point. I want to pick up Jon right there and get us out of the inning. Get us back in [the dugout]. I didn't execute. It happens sometimes. We'll get them tomorrow."
Niese pitched well for the Mets, but the Phillies managed to tie the game at 1 on a home run down the left-field line by Freddy Galvis in the fifth inning. Niese gave up two hits in the seventh inning, and with his starter at 117 pitches, Collins summoned Atchison.
The Phillies countered immediately, tabbing Howard to pinch-hit for Kevin Frandsen, who had started at first base against the lefty. Both Atchison and Collins said they expected Howard to come off the bench in that situation, but the Mets still needed to execute to get out of the jam.
"I knew they were going to put Howard in," said Collins. "Scott Atchison's breaking ball is really difficult to hit. I don't care who it is. The issue is he fell behind and tried to sneak a fastball by him and didn't get it in. He didn't make the pitch he wanted, but Jon was done."
Niese, who was knocked out early in his last outing after being hit by a comebacker, said he felt good Sunday and that he was pleased with the way he pitched. Niese felt that Buck's play on the foul ball was a tough one, and he said he would've liked a chance to redeem his catcher.
"I didn't want to," said Niese of exiting the game. "I gave up two ground-ball base hits. Obviously, my pitch count was up there. The situation called for it. But I definitely wanted to be in there."
The Mets were three-hit twice en route to getting swept by Philadelphia. Now, after a 3-6 homestand, they need to find a way to flip the switch and perform on the road against division rivals Miami and Atlanta.
New York will have phenom Matt Harvey on the mound in Monday's series opener against the Marlins, but the Mets know they'll only go as far as their batting order can take them.
"I've said several times, 'God, we want to get off to a good start.' And we did," said Collins. "Right now, we've hit a slump offensively. We're still in April. We'll pick it up. ... Everybody's working at stuff. The video room is being packed with guys lined up to try to figure it out."