At Intermission, the Mets Stagger off the Stage

There was a carnival in the plaza outside Citi Field on Sunday morning. Bouncy houses, balloon animals and a dunk tank welcomed Mets fans as they walked off the No. 7 train. It was put on by Send in the Clowns, the team’s official party provider. Still, Corey Johnson, a stadium greeter, knew optimism would be a tough sell.

“It’s a thank you for coming,” he said. “It’s rough being a Mets fan right now.”

Indeed, it was the Phillies, the Mets’ opponents on Sunday, who stepped right up when the game began. In merry-go-round fashion, they made their way around the basepaths to take a 4-0 lead after just one inning.

It would be more than enough. For in their final game before the All-Star break, the Mets did not even manage a hit against Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola until the sixth inning. The hit was a two-run homer by the rookie slugger Pete Alonso, giving him a resounding 30 for the season, but even so it only narrowed the Phillies’ lead to 6-2. And by game’s end, the Mets had lost yet again, this time by an 8-3 score, as they fell to a disheartening 40-50 on the season.

They are 13½ games out of first place in the National League East, and seven games out of a wild-card spot. And while Manager Mickey Callaway expressed defiant optimism after the game, it’s doubtful many of the team’s fans would agree with his assessment.

Taking the loss was Mets starter Zack Wheeler, who may be sent elsewhere by the time the trading deadline arrives at the end of the month. He said he thought he knew why the Phillies were able to knock him around as soon as Sunday’s game began.

“Honestly, I think they had my pitches,” he said. “I thought it was a little weird when they were turning on fastballs.”

Jay Bruce, the outfielder whom the Mets traded to Seattle in the off-season as part of the ambitious deal to acquire Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, contributed to the first-inning onslaught with a run-scoring single. By game’s end, he had added two home runs in just the latest reminder that the trade has not worked out at all the way the Mets envisioned.

Still, Callaway remained positive. “I feel like we can make a run at this thing,” he said. “We can sneak into the wild card. We can sneak back into the division. I’ve seen it all. Anything can happen in baseball.”

That may be, but the season’s intermission could not come soon enough for the Mets. They are flailing in fourth place despite boasting Jeff McNeil, the best hitter in the majors with a .349 average; Alonso, the front-runner for rookie of the year in the National League; and Jacob deGrom, the defending Cy Young Award winner in the N.L. and a pitcher who has produced seven consecutive quality starts.

All three had their bags packed for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. Alonso will participate in the home run derby Monday night. He leads all rookies in home runs, runs batted in (68), extra-base hits (53), on-base percentage (.372), slugging percentage (.634), total bases (206), runs (57), hits (91), multi-hit games (28), walks (37) and doubles (21).

“I just feel continually blessed,” Alonso said. “I’m living out a fantasy right now.”

If only his team was. Instead, they keep losing, and over the weekend they also became ensnared in some bad blood with the Phillies after Mets third baseman Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch on Saturday night. It was the second time in as many nights he had been hit and the third time this season a Philies pitcher had plunked him.

Both teams were issued a warning by the umpire after Saturday’s episode, but Frazier was ejected for arguing that the Mets should not have received one. Callaway ended up being tossed, too. And Jake Arrieta, the pitcher who hit Frazier on Saturday, took exception to Frazier’s complaints afterward, saying: “He can come see me and I’ll put a dent in his skull.’’

“A little overboard,” Frazier said Sunday morning when asked about Arrieta’s comment.

In Sunday’s game, the Mets appeared to retaliate in the seventh inning when Wilmer Font threw a fastball that hit Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins in the leg. Neither team reacted at that point, although Hoskins answered back with a home run in the ninth.

A few minutes later, the Mets were done for the day. They will resume their season on Friday in Miami, where they start a 10-day road trip.

When asked what the Mets must do to improve, Alonso, the upbeat rookie, said they needed to show confidence despite all the setbacks in the first half of the season.

“I think that we need to get the ball rolling as soon as the break is over,” he said. “Everybody needs to rest up.’’

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