NEW YORK -- Neil Walker is swinging a smoldering-hot bat and Steven Matz may have found his pitching groove. Those are two things that should have brightened the New York Mets' horizon on Tuesday night, yet still it remains dark around the edges. They can't seem to win two games in a row.
Matz pitched six excellent innings and Walker hit a big two-run homer in the sixth to put Matz in line for a win, but reliever Hansel Robles allowed Arizona to score three times in the seventh and the Mets lost 5-3 to the struggling Diamondbacks before 31,884 at Citi Field.
The Mets last won two straight on July 6 and 7. This was their 10th chance to do it since a loss on July 8. Making matters worse, the Mets dropped to 2 1/2 games out for the second National League wild-card spot as the Miami Marlins beat the San Francisco Giants.
"It's kind of like it's been one step forward and two steps back for us, but we're playing hard," said Walker, who was 3-for-4 and notched his 20th homer. "This is a hard time of year. It's a grind-it-out time of year. The teams that are out of it can be dangerous teams, too, like these guys. ... We've just got to keep going out there and keep grinding and hope we get hot. Certainly nights like tonight can be frustrating."
Walker is hitting .491 with three homers and 11 RBIs over his past 13 games and became the third Mets second baseman to hit 20 home runs in a season, joining Jeff Kent and Edgardo Alfonzo.
When the Mets last won two straight, they were just three games back of Washington in the NL East and were three games ahead for the second wild card. A spate of injuries has played a part, but the bottom line is they're now nine games back for the division and in third place. If they don't get some traction, the Mets (57-55) could slip out of the running.
"Any team I've been on, especially the last three years, this is the time of year you have to get on a roll," said Walker, who reached the postseason with Pittsburgh the previous three years. "April and May are months where if you don't play great you can make up for it in June, July, August and September. But I haven't been on a team that's made the playoffs that hasn't been good in August. So we're grinding it out and trying to get it right."
Matz needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning but ended up allowing just two solo homers over his six innings while tying a career high with nine strikeouts. He felt good enough to throw a career-high 120 pitches. The southpaw has been battling bone spurs in his elbow but now has three strong outings in his past four starts, pitching 24 innings to a 3.75 ERA.
But just as there is a loss to follow every win, there is a bad trend to go with every good one. Travis d'Arnaud and Michael Conforto have been a drag on the offense just a season after being a boost to it as the Mets won the 2015 pennant. Conforto was 0-for-3 and is batting .217 since returning from Triple-A on July 17, while d'Arnaud was 0-for-3 and saw his batting average plummet to .234. In the ninth inning with a runner on base and two out, manager Terry Collins optioned to pinch hit for the catcher with Ty Kelly. Even worse, the Diamondback stole five bases against him; he's thrown out just nine of 51 base stealers this season.
"It's very hard because [d'Arnaud]'s a guy who is a big part of our lineup," Collins said of the decision to go with Kelly over d'Arnaud at that point. "We've got to get him going. He's far better than a .230 hitter. We've got to get him and Michael going. Last year in the World Series, those guys hit five and six [or] sixth and seventh for us. They were a big part of our offense. If we're going to get anything, they've got to be a part of it."
Robles came on with the 3-2 lead in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff double to Chris Owings and gave up a one-out walk to Phil Gosselin on a 3-and-2 pitch. He struck out Jean Segura for the second out and then gave up a two-run triple -- and the lead -- to Michael Bourn. Lefties were hitting just .185 against Robles coming into the game so Collins opted to stick with him even though he had lefty Josh Edgin ready.
"A pretty good matchup -- he just didn't make the pitch," Collins said.