SAN FRANCISCO -- After a sweep this week at the hands of the lowly Cubs - "We just got outplayed in pretty much every area of the game," third baseman David Wright said as his team left Wrigley -- the Mets flew to San Francisco facing one of their most daunting challenges of the season. At the tail end of an 11-game road trip, in their third time zone of the week, the Mets arrived at the doorstep of the best team in baseball.
Despite all that adversity and a sold-out crowd, Jon Niese and the Mets hung tough for most of Friday night's game at AT&T Park, but their offense continued to sputter and they ultimately fell, 4-2, to Matt Cain and the Giants.
"Matt threw the ball well," second baseman Daniel Murphy said. "Jon threw the ball well tonight. Hits were hard to come by, to say the least. It was just a tough night for the offense."
In his first start back from a hamstring strain that sidelined him for more than two weeks, Cain threatened for much of the night to make things even worse, holding the Mets hitless into the sixth. Ruben Tejada finally broke up his bid for a no-hitter with a leadoff single, and the Mets took a brief lead an inning later on Murphy's two-run homer.
The lead didn't last. Facing Carlos Torres in the eighth, Giants catcher Buster Posey launched a two-run homer into the stands in left-center stands, giving San Francisco the lead for good.
"He's a force to be reckoned with," said manager Terry Collins, who mostly bemoaned the leadoff walk that Torres had issued to Angel Pagan. "You get those big guys up there in big situations, and Buster's made a career out of getting big hits."
Niese nearly matched Cain in the early going, not cracking for a run until Brandon Crawford's sacrifice fly in the fifth. Thanks to Murphy's homer, the left-hander was even in line for the win until Crawford singled up the middle in the seventh inning, plating Brandon Hicks with the tying run.
"Niese was throwing the ball well, very well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's a tough at-bat for Crawford, but he got it done."
After winning four of five in Philadelphia last weekend, the Mets have dropped four in a row to the Cubs and Giants.
They are growing frustrated with their performance, and it is beginning to show.
When asked about Cain's outing, Murphy snapped, "This is the big leagues. It's a hard league."
Collins criticized his pitchers for issuing walks in key spots, including Pagan's free pass and the one that Niese issued to Hicks with two outs in the seventh, allowing Crawford to bat with a man on base.
Mets pitchers lead the National League in bases on balls and, despite walking only two on Friday, are seeing the walks come back to hurt them on a near-daily basis.
"It's tough," Niese said. "You go out there and battle and you want to see the win beside your name. But it is what it is. It's part of the game. It'll come eventually."
The bigger issue remains an offense that has succeeded only sporadically throughout the first two-plus months of the season. The Mets mustered only three hits off Cain and four total, and that was not out of the ordinary.
Niese said that he has "all the confidence in the offense we have here," but that group ranks 19th in the Majors in on-base percentage, 30th in slugging and 28th in OPS. The Mets often find themselves going four, five, six innings at a time without scoring, and it is costing them.
Cain, who already has a perfect game on his resume, exploited that on Friday. Sharp from the start, he showed no ill effects from the injury that forced him to the disabled list in late-May.
"When it got to about the fifth inning, I wasn't sure we were going to get much," Collins said. "And we didn't."