NEW YORK -- Jonathon Niese can trace his struggles Friday night during the Mets' 6-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves back to one at-bat, versus opposing pitcher Tommy Hanson.
All Niese had to do was get one out. Retire his fellow starter, who came into the game hitting just .109 on the year, and he would head to the dugout still up 3-1 heading to the bottom of the fourth inning.
Only, it wasn't that easy. Niese's fastball kept cutting on him, moving out of the zone and being called a ball. The count went full before Niese missed with a cutter to walk the pitcher, a cardinal sin in baseball.
Three batters and six runs later, his walk cost him the ballgame.
"One minute I'm winning 3-0 and then before I know it, we're down 6-3," Niese said. "I tried to get through it, but I couldn't get through it."
Niese's walk to Hanson led to six Braves runs in the top of the fourth, as the Mets' four-game winning streak was snapped at Citi Field. While none of the runs were earned, as third baseman David Wright made a throwing error that prolonged the frame, Niese unraveled with two outs, allowing four straight runners to reach base, including a game-winning three-run homer by Jason Heyward.
"Walking Hanson, there's no excuse for that obviously," Niese said. "But other than that, I felt good. Really [Heyward's] three-run homer is what broke it open, but other than that, I thought it wasn't too bad."
Niese cruised through the first three innings of the game, giving up just one hit, a single to Heyward in the third inning. Meanwhile, Niese's teammates gave him an early cushion as they scored three runs in the second against Hanson, including RBIs from Lucas Duda, Jose Reyes and Niese himself.
In the fourth, though, it all went amuck. Wright's throwing error on a groundball by Matt Diaz put two men on with one out, and loomed large after Niese retired Alex Gonzalez for the second out. Melky Cabrera then singled to slice the lead to 3-1, and then came the dooming walk to Hanson to load the bases.
Omar Infante followed with a chopper down the third-base line that scooted past the glove of a diving Wright and plated two runs to tie the game, and Heyward then smoked a 1-2 curveball off the Subway sign in the right-field bleachers to give the Braves a 6-3 lead.
Niese (9-9) lost for the fourth time in his past five starts, and has now dropped two straight decisions. He said he felt strong going into the game and felt strong as the game progressed, although fatigue did start to set in as he labored during the fourth inning.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Niese is the first Mets pitcher to give up six or more runs with none being earned since Al Leiter on April 13, 2002. It's also the most team runs allowed, with none being earned, in Mets history.
"It's tough, obviously I want to get through it and help my guys," Niese said about the error that extended the inning. "And it's frustrating not being able to do that."
While the final outcome wasn't pretty for the Mets, as they dropped back to .500 at 74-74, manager Jerry Manuel didn't seem too discouraged about what he saw from his starter. But, like most in the park on this night, he was left wondering what could've been had Niese just been able to retire the opposing pitcher.
"That was probably the biggest swing of the game, that brought back the top of the lineup and they put some good swings on him," Manuel sad. "But I thought Jonathan Niese had good stuff going into tonight. Those first couple of innings, I really thought he had good stuff, but it got away from us, we made an error and was not able to overcome it."