For four innings, Jeff Locke was perfect.
Twelve men up for the New York Mets. Twelve men down.
Problem was, it was the inning that wasn’t close to perfect for Locke — a messy first — that led to his downfall on Wednesday night in the Marlins’ 8-0 loss to the Mets.
Locke labored through a demanding 32-pitch first inning in which the southpaw gave up three runs on three hits and a pair of walks, as his record fell to 0-4. The big blow in the decisive inning for the Mets was Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-run homer.
“Sometimes when the damage is done, it’s a little too late, and that was the case [Wednesday night],” Locke said. “It goes back to the first inning. It’s inexcusable, really.”
After that, Locke was golden. He threw just 48 pitches over the next four innings and lasted into the sixth, when manager Don Mattingly took him out with two outs.
“[I’m] just really happy with the way we rebounded,” Locke said. “You have to take the positives and throw out the negative stuff. Unfortunately, I had a tough first inning, ate up a lot of pitches.”
Mets leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson set the tone when he fouled off four pitches during a nine-pitch at-bat that culminated in a walk. Cabrera than put one in the seats to give the Mets a quick 2-0 lead.
“Giving up the home run right after [the walk to Granderson], that ended up becoming the deciding factor of the game,” Locke said.
Locke struggled to survive the inning. He got out of it only when Travis d’Arnaud was thrown out in a rundown on Jose Reyes’ RBI single that made it 3-0.
“There’s a lot of things you’re thinking about. Is this inning ever going to end?” Locke said of his long first inning.
But Locke made it through and became a different pitcher. He didn’t allow another base runner until Cabrera reached on an infield single to open the sixth.
Trailing by just three runs when he lifted Locke, Mattingly figured the Marlins (35-41) still had a chance. But the bats never got going against Mets starter Steven Matz and the bullpen caved late, allowing five runs.
“You’re at least in the game,” Mattingly said of the three-run deficit.
They weren’t for long after the bullpen took over.
The Mets (35-42) added three runs in the seventh off relievers Dustin McGowan and Justin Nicolino, who was yanked from the starting rotation and thrown into bullpen duty. On his first day on the job, Nicolino gave up a two-run homer to the first batter he faced, Granderson.
“I think we were at that point of the game where we’re going to see what [Nicolino] can do, see if he can come in there and get us an out against the lefty,” Mattingly said of bringing in Nicolino to face the left-handed hitting Granderson. “We’re trying to find out some things [about Nicolino], and it didn’t work out.
“That [seventh] inning obviously was the crucial inning, where they broke it wide open,” Mattingly added.
The Mets scored two more runs off Junichi Tazawa in the eighth. Tazawa has been ineffective all season. His ERA climbed to a ghastly 7.50 with Wednesday’s poor performance.
The Marlins came up empty against Matz, who held them to six hits — all singles — over seven innings. The Mets bullpen did the rest against the Marlins, who were shut out for the third time this season.