Mets’ bullpen crumbles in the 8th in ugly 12-5 loss to the Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For the second straight day the Mets relief corps, a unit which had been a welcome surprise in April and through the first two weeks of May, let the club down.

Drew Smith was solid as the opener, allowing just an unearned run in two innings. But the bullpen game behind him was ugly, with Joey Lucchesi giving up four of the 11 runs that followed in the Mets’ 12-5 loss to the Rays on Saturday at Tropicana Field.

“Certain situations like this you can’t really control,” said Pete Alonso, who homered in the third inning, on the bullpen’s performance.

In back-to-back games, the Mets saw leads vanish against the Rays. On Friday, Tampa Bay came back after being two runs down to walk-off in the ninth inning. On Saturday, the Mets put up a three-run lead that the Rays erased in a jumbo five-run fourth inning.

The Mets clawed back to within one run following Francisco Lindor’s solo home run in the eighth, but three earned runs each were charged to Jacob Barnes and Jeurys Familia in the bottom of the frame to break the game open for the Rays.

Lucchesi surrendered four earned runs in his sixth appearance of the season, bringing his ERA up to 9.19 on the year. It’s reasonable to wonder whether Saturday was Lucchesi’s last big-league outing for at least the upcoming weeks, while the Mets try to work around their fifth starter situation until Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard are expected to join the rotation in June.

“I just gotta keep trusting myself,” Lucchesi said. “I know personally I’m really good but I’m not showing it right now. I just gotta man up and get out on my own, get out of this rut. I know I can do it. I know there’s haters out there, but it’s whatever. I’m just going to keep pushing myself and do the best I can the next time out.”

Mets manager Luis Rojas said Lucchesi remains valuable as a lefty long man out of the bullpen.

“Right now, I gotta say yes,” said Rojas when asked if Lucchesi will receive another opportunity to pitch while Jacob deGrom (right side tightness) is on the injured list until at least May 21. The Mets will first need to fill deGrom’s slot in the rotation Tuesday in Atlanta before they consider replacing Lucchesi with another pitcher. For now, their Tuesday starter is TBD.

Jordan Yamamoto, who struck out eight batters over 4.1 innings for Triple-A Syracuse on Friday, would have to pitch on three days’ rest against the Braves. But he remains an option for the Mets’ thin starting pitching depth.

The Mets’ offense, on the other hand, enjoyed a better day at the plate than their two runs scored in the series opener Friday. But the effort ultimately fell short following the bullpen blowup.

The Amazin’s recorded three home runs in a game for the first time this season in Saturday’s loss. Second baseman Jose Peraza put the team on the board with a three-run shot (his first as a Met) and Alonso followed up with a hometown home run. The Polar Bear’s solo dinger was his first since April 25, with his 15 games in between representing the longest stretch with a homer in his career. Alonso pointed to his parents, fiancee Haley Walsh, and other family members as he touched home plate.

“I got a hold of one, I got a good pitch to hit,” Alonso said. “It felt really good, especially when they’re there watching.”

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