CINCINNATI -- Bad nights are going to happen and they're never pleasant to endure. It happened for the Reds on Monday, and coming in the final week of the season with playoff scenarios still very much at stake, it was as welcome as gum on a shoe.
Starting pitcher Mike Leake was chased early, and the four second-inning runs he allowed were enough to give the Reds a 4-2 loss to the Mets at Great American Ball Park.
"I wasn't making pitches and they were making me pay," said Leake, who tied a career low with 1 2/3 innings pitched. He allowed eight hits.
It was a particularly costly night in the standings for the Reds, who fell to three games behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central with four games left in the regular season. St. Louis blanked the Nationals by a 2-0 score. The playoff-bound Pirates, whom the Reds are also battling for the chance to host the NL Wild Card game next Tuesday, beat the Cubs to move a game ahead. Cincinnati will host Pittsburgh for the final three regular-season games this weekend.
The Reds seem most likely to pitch some combination of Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto should they advance to the NL Division Series. Where Leake fits into the playoff roster situation remains ambiguous at best. A rough final regular-season start certainly doesn't help.
"We aren't even thinking about that yet," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm sure Mike feels badly about it. The thing about it is everybody is capable of a bad start. This was his first one in a long time. Just chalk that out and get ready for his next start."
Leake, who is now 14-7 with a 3.37 ERA after 31 starts, took a 20 1/3 scoreless-innings streak into the night.
"I wasn't fighting for anything," Leake said of his playoff roster status. "They're going to decide who they're going to decide. It's not a competition. We're a team. Whoever they decide is who they pick. That wasn't in my head at all."
Leake kept his scoreless streak alive for one more during a two-hit but scoreless first inning. Everything came apart in the second.
Mike Baxter hit a leadoff double to right field and scored on a one-out single to center field by Wilfredo Tovar. Mets pitcher Jon Niese rolled a single into right field -- a play in which Tovar was thrown out at home by Jay Bruce -- and Eric Young Jr. hit a ground-rule double to left-center field.
A 10-pitch duel with Daniel Murphy culminated in a full-count pitch being hit into the right-field seats for a three-run homer and 4-0 lead. Leake was pulled after David Wright's single.
"He didn't have his best command, and they put some good swings on balls, found some holes," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "Murphy had that big at-bat where he fouled off a lot of good pitches and he was able to get the barrel to one there. It happened, and he'll be fine."
Including Zach Duke and his 2 1/3 scoreless innings, the Reds' bullpen did a solid job of keeping New York from adding on. Duke, Logan Ondrusek, J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall and Alfredo Simon combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings. At one point, Reds relievers combined to retire 10 in a row.
"Our bullpen did an outstanding job of holding it to four runs," Baker said.
Despite the zeros on the board, the Reds could not muster a dazzling comeback. There were a few missed chances to pounce on Niese, but none were bigger than in the first. That's when Cincinnati notched three singles in the inning and netted zero runs.
With one out and runners on first and second, Ryan Ludwick lined a single to center field. Waved around, Shin-Soo Choo was thrown out sliding into home on a perfect throw by Juan Lagares.
"It was big when the guy threw out Choo. That was an outstanding throw," Baker said. "You don't know if there was a turning point in the game, but if the throw had been off a little bit or whatever, who knows how many we would have gotten?"
In the second inning, Todd Frazier hit a leadoff double and later scored from third base on Mesoraco's groundout to shortstop. The only thing that came from Choo's leadoff triple over Lagares' head and to the wall in the fifth was him scoring on Joey Votto's 6-4-3 double play to make it a two-run game. After Votto's double play, Mets pitchers retired 12 of 13, with only Frazier reaching on a Vic Black wild pitch in the ninth after striking out. The game ended when Zack Cozart grounded to Black, who started a 1-6-3 double play.
"You want to break people's hearts," Black said. "So to be able to get that feeling of knowing how to play these games and what to do in these situations and these environments is huge. And especially against the Reds, I've never really liked the Reds."
"Just growing up, my uncle set that image in my head. I guess he wasn't a fan and it bled over," Black said.
The Reds, who came in winners in six of their previous seven games and clinched a playoff spot on Monday, can't afford to have this type of loss bleed over into Wednesday afternoon. A win is critical for their chances to get back even with the Pirates before they come to town.
"Nothing you can do at this point," Mesoraco said. "We didn't play too well and they beat us. Get back in here early tomorrow morning and get after them."