TORONTO -- Replays showed it clearly. Yunel Escobar's tag swept down in the general direction of Mike Baxter, missing the outfielder by about a foot. But second-base umpire Brian Knight did not have access to the replays, and called him out. After arguing futilely for a few token moments, the typically mild-mannered Baxter found himself half-walking, half-hopping angrily off the Rogers Centre turf.
Had Knight ruled Baxter safe at second, the Mets would have had two runners in scoring position with one out in the ninth inning Saturday, positioned to crack Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow for the first time all day. As it was, they had nothing more than a runner on third base with two outs. Their second straight defeat, a 2-0 loss to the Jays, became inevitable.
"We got to a good spot there, kind of like we've been doing for the past couple weeks," Baxter said, referencing the Mets' recent run of come-from-behind victories. "But those umpires are great. Those guys are very, very skilled at what they do, and [today], it didn't work out in our favor."
For eight innings, the Mets had been unable to do much of anything against Morrow, who showcased command while reaching as high as the upper 90s with his fastball. But when pinch-hitter Scott Hairston drew a four-pitch walk to lead off the ninth inning, the Mets had a chance in a two-run ballgame.
After Andres Torres popped out, Baxter pulled a Morrow curveball it into shallow right field, where Jose Bautista raced to field it. Thinking he had a sure double, Baxter said he was somewhat surprised to see Bautista field the ball quickly and fire it into second.
But the throw was off line, a few ticks to the right, moving Escobar away from the second-base bag to receive it. As a result, the shortstop's only chance at a play was to sweep a tag on Baxter as he ran past.
Replays showed that Escobar whiffed, perhaps by as much as a foot. But with Knight correctly positioned on the infield side of the bag, the umpire did not have a clear view of the play. Mets manager Terry Collins came out to argue, but Knight told him he could not seek help from another member of his crew.
So that was that. Collins returned to the dugout. Daniel Murphy lined out. The Blue Jays won.
"I know Brandon pitched a great game," Collins said, "but that's a tough one to lose."
Morrow, as Collins noted, was nothing short of sensational. In what has been a breakout season for the former reliever, Morrow retired 20 of the first 21 batters that he faced, including seven in a row to open the game. Though the Mets hit a few line drives directly at Toronto fielders, Morrow mostly kept them off-balance, striking out eight and walking no one until the ninth.
"He's obviously pitching with a lot of confidence," Jays manager John Farrell said. You're seeing all the package come together."
Mets starter Miguel Batista sensed early that Morrow was sharp, and mentally prepared himself "to go nine, 12, 15" innings to match him. But he could not. Coming off seven scoreless innings during which he pitched through a mild groin strain, the 41-year-old Batista pulled a muscle in his lower back while facing Eric Thames in the second. Though Batista retired the next two batters to escape an early jam, he could not make it through his warmup pitches in the third.
His replacement, Jeremy Hefner, more than held his own after joining the Mets as bullpen insurance earlier in the day. Much as he did during his big league debut last month, Hefner buzzed through his first two innings before running into the first real trouble of his career in the third.
It was not much -- Jeff Mathis singled with two outs, Kelly Johnson doubled him home and Escobar capped the rally with an RBI double. But it was enough. Playing without the ill David Wright, the Mets could not muster the sort of offensive spark needed to come back from a two-run deficit.
"I wish I wouldn't have given up the two runs," said Hefner, who struck out five Blue Jays over five innings.
It was certainly a difficult way for Hefner to take his first Major League loss, just as it was a difficult way for the Mets to absorb their fourth defeat in five games. This is a club already playing without its starting shortstop, catcher and left fielder, and now unsure if Wright will be healthy enough to start Sunday at third base. The Mets have also lost one member of their rotation, Mike Pelfrey, for the season, and now are in danger of losing his replacement.
Given those troubles, their team-wide frustration on a missed call at second base seemed more than justified.
"There's a human element," Baxter said. "And that's why I hate reacting like that, because I know it's a very difficult game. That's the way it goes."