NEW YORK -- A first-time manager, the Reds' Bryan Price has just been introduced to the sting often felt when sitting in the skipper's chair following a bad loss -- and the second guessing that comes with it.
It's only five games into the regular season, but the Reds' 6-3 defeat to the Mets on Saturday hurt more because it all came apart during the bottom of the ninth before culminating in a walk-off grand slam by pinch-hitter Ike Davis against reliever J.J. Hoover.
"It's not going to be an easy night to get a good night's sleep, that's for sure," Price said. "J.J. has been a reliable performer for us. He will continue to be. It was just one of those days."
Without injured relievers Aroldis Chapman or Jonathan Broxton, the Reds' closer-by-committee's first save opportunity of the season came to Hoover. He was on to protect a 3-2 lead that was gained by Brandon Phillips' two-run home run in the top of the eighth. Sam LeCure, used for the first time this season, worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth with only 11 pitches.
When asked if there were any thoughts of giving LeCure a two-inning save chance, Price replied succinctly.
"Nope," Price said.
The Mets' ninth began when Juan Lagares drew a leadoff walk from Hoover before things unraveled.
"That leadoff walk, I didn't give myself any chance, really," Hoover said. "Then the game got a little quick. I tried to slow it down. I got outside of my strengths. I didn't really give myself a shot walking the guys."
Anthony Recker followed with a sacrifice-bunt attempt toward the first-base side. Joey Votto did not think twice before fielding and turning a one-hop throw to second base, where Lagares beat the ball to the base but was called out by umpire James Hoye.
Mets manager Terry Collins challenged, and after a review that took 2 minutes and 14 seconds, the call was overturned to put runners on first and second base. Had the new replay rules not been in place for this season, the Reds would have caught a break.
"At least we've got one out and a runner at first. It doesn't mean that we win the game, but it certainly would have helped us," Price said. "They're trying to do everything that they can. I would have been upset if the shoe was on the other foot."
The less risky play for Votto would have been going to first base for the sure out.
"He bunted hard. Typically, when a hitter bunts the ball hard to me, I'm thinking about throwing to second," Votto said. "It's a no-hesitation play. I made the decision to throw to second, and I was wrong."
Ruben Tejada was next and, after a 2-0 count, he fouled off two bunt attempts. Hoover's trouble then compounded when he walked Tejada to load the bases.
In an 0-1 count, Hoover threw Davis a hanging curveball, and it was pulled to right field for a no-doubt homer.
"Anytime you can get a game-winning hit, it's always a really good feeling," Davis said. "I just happened to hit it a little better than a single. It's always good to come back when you're down in the ninth. It's a good momentum swing. They're always fun."
It was quite the contrary for Hoover, who has allowed four grand slams during his career. The last time the Reds were dealt a walk-off loss on a grand slam was May 20, 2010, at Atlanta, where Brooks Conrad -- also a pinch-hitter -- cleared the fence against Francisco Cordero.
"He put a good swing on that," Hoover said of Davis. "That doesn't really happen too often to my curveball."
The Reds have dropped four of their first five games of the season, and once again Johnny Cueto came away empty after a strong performance. Cueto pitched seven innings, allowing two earned runs and five hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. That gave him three earned runs over his first 14 innings, including a 1-0 defeat vs. the Cardinals on Opening Day.
"It's certainly a silver lining in a tough loss the way Johnny has thrown the ball," Price said. "He has done a terrific job."
It was a scoreless game until the fifth inning, when Ryan Ludwick led off and pulled Dillon Gee's 2-0 pitch inside the left-field foul pole for his first homer of the season.
That gave Cueto his first lead of this young season, but he could not protect it. In the top of the sixth, with a runner on first base, Cueto threw a 2-2 pitch to Curtis Granderson and drew a check swing. It looked like he went around, and the Reds appealed to third-base umpire John Tumpane without success.
On a 3-2 pitch, Granderson drove a two-run homer into the right-field upper deck -- his first long ball for the Mets.
Gee, the Mets' starter, was still pitching with one out in the eighth, when Phillips drove a 1-0 pitch into the left-field seats for his first homer of the season and a Reds lead.
All four of the Reds' previous games were decided by one run. For the first time in franchise history, it looked like it would happen a fifth time.
"Things just didn't work. Nothing worked," Price said. "We had scratched to take the lead there, and Brandon had the big home run. We just weren't able to close it out."
Instead, the team will return to the hotel recounting all that went wrong.
"Any time you get left on the field, it's never ideal," Votto said.