"There's two sides," Mets manager Terry Collins said about deGrom's shoulder soreness. "He's not concerned about it, the trainers really aren't. I'm not overly concerned except he's a young kid whose got a sore shoulder. That scares me. So we're going to go get it checked and let the professionals tell us how it is. He wanted to throw a side [session] today and I said, 'No.'"
For the time being, New York's future appeared to dim a shade before play commenced at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. But once it did, the Mets lit up Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick and received an eighth consecutive quality start from another important part of their future, Zack Wheeler, only to let the Phillies rally en route to a walk-off loss.
The Mets took a 6-3 lead into the seventh, but things began to fall apart after Wheeler's departure. Vic Black entered in relief and recorded two outs to begin the inning, but shortstop Wilmer Flores had a difficult time getting the ball out of his glove on a grounder from Ben Revere, setting the stage for a two-run inning.
With Flores, Collins said a learning curve is to be expected.
"That was the whole plan. We have to see if he can play Major League shortstop," Collins said. "He's got to be out there. We got to find out if he's going to be able to do it. If he's going to be able to hit. And with that comes maybe a play like that."
Jimmy Rollins kept the line moving with a single in the next at-bat. With Chase Utley coming to the plate, Collins had lefty-specialist Josh Edgin at his disposal, but opted to stick with Black. Utley, who also hit a solo shot in the first, proceeded to smack a two-run triple to make it 6-5 and end Black's outing.
Edgin came in and struck out all four batters to face him as the Mets carried a lead into the ninth.
But Cody Asche doubled off closer Jenrry Mejia to begin the ninth, and pinch-hitter Marlon Byrd drove him in on a single to tie the game. Mejia then got the signal to intentionally walk Utley on a 3-2 count to face Howard.
Utley was surprised.
"Little bit," he said.
So was Mejia.
"I want to finish [the at-bat], but I'm not the manager," Mejia said. "I have to do whatever the manager wants me to do. Nothing I can do. A little bit surprised, but I can't do anything. Terry Collins is the manager. I'm just the player. I have to do whatever he wants me to do."
Collins was just trying to play the numbers.
"No. 1, you've got to make a great pitch to [Utley]," the manager said. "I'm not going to let him beat me. Howard's been struggling. You've got to make him beat you. In my book, that's the way I look at it."
Howard did just that, hooking a slider from Mejia down the right-field line to score Byrd with the game-winning run.
Mejia is 17-for-20 in save situations.
For the Mets, Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnuad went back-to-back in the fifth and Juan Lagares came within inches of a three-run homer in the third to provide them with a cushion that would not last.
Wheeler, meanwhile, cruised through four innings, struggled with his command in the fifth and sixth, but still left with his team up by three runs.
He went six innings and allowed three runs, three hits, three walks and struck out five.
"I pitched all right, but I wasn't very happy with the overall way I pitched," Wheeler said. "Walking guys when we get a big lead is the last thing you want to do. It drove my pitch count up and I was going smooth there for a while and then had to come out because my pitch count was high. That's starting to get kind of old -- coming out after the sixth, so I'm going to have to change something."