ATLANTA — The losses keep coming for Shaun Marcum.
The right-hander is winless in nine decisions this season after he gave up a three-run homer to Chris Johnson and failed to make it through the fifth inning in the New York Mets' 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.
Marcum had hoped to build on strong performances by youngsters Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, who led the Mets to a doubleheader sweep of the first-place Braves the previous day.
Instead, he extended the worst start for a Mets pitcher since Anthony Young lost his first 13 decisions in 1993 on the way to a 1-16 record. The only other pitcher in New York history to begin a season with as many as nine consecutive losses was Bob Miller, who started 0-12 in 1962 before winning his final decision with the woeful expansion Mets.
"It's been a three-month ordeal for me," Marcum said. "I felt like I didn't locate anything."
The right-hander lasted just 4 2-3 innings, surrendering all five runs, six hits and four walks.
"Balls are not falling his way. We haven't given him run support, either," catcher John Buck said. "It's just not going real well for him. When I'm back there, I feel like we're in control of everything. It's always just one mistake or that one inning that seems to bite him."
The biggest mistake came against Johnson in a scoreless game. After Marcum retired the first two hitters in the fourth, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla hit back-to-back singles. Johnson took two balls, and then drove a pitch hanging over the plate into the left-field seats for his first homer since May 13.
"He's had some rough starts, but he's also pitched very well at times," manager Terry Collins said of Marcum. "One thing, you usually see a lot of strikes. I don't know what it was today, but he was behind in more counts than he normally is, so I'm not sure his command was the best it's been."
The Mets bounced back to tie the game in the fifth, thanks to an explicable defensive blunder by Atlanta starter Kris Medlen.
With a 3-0 lead, two runners aboard and no outs, Medlen got just what he wanted from Buck – a grounder right back to the mound.
An easy double play, right? Not so fast.
For some reason, Medlen whirled and threw to third – apparently thinking triple play – but the ball skipped past the bag and rolled toward left field. Instead of getting two outs, both runners came around to score. Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed with a bloop single just inside the right-field line to bring home Buck with the tying run.
"It was like I blacked out, and when I woke up, the ball was in left field," Medlen said. "It's one of those plays that as you're making it, you're like, `What the hell are you doing?'"
Manager Fredi Gonzalez wondered the same thing as he watched the baffling play unfold.
"I hope no kids were watching that," he said. "I've never seen that before. Maybe in 10-and-under baseball, but I don't think I've seen that play – ever. Believe me, we don't practice that."
Medlen bounced back from the miscue, giving up six hits and only one earned run, while striking out seven. He didn't walk anyone and even picked up the first stolen base of his career in the sixth. He had the bag in his locker after the game, a souvenir to help him forget that other play.
"We won, so I'm happy," he said. "But it feels like we lost."
The Braves quickly reclaimed the lead in the bottom half of the fifth, thanks to some gutsy baserunning by Jordan Schafer.
He led off with a double and advanced on Andrelton Simmons' sacrifice before Freddie Freeman walked. It looked as if Marcum might escape the jam when he struck out Justin Upton. But a pitch to Brian McCann bounced off Buck's chest protector, rolling off to the catcher's right.
Schafer was nearly halfway down the line already – the Mets shifted their defense against McCann, leaving only third baseman David Wright on the left side of the infield – and the runner broke for home as soon as he saw the ball get away. Even though it didn't even roll off the dirt around home plate and Buck made a quick flip to Marcum covering home, Schafer slid headfirst under the tag.
"Great instincts," Gonzalez said.
B.J. Upton followed with an RBI double that gave the Braves a two-run cushion, finishing off Marcum.
Medlen pitched into the eighth, coming out after giving up a single to pinch hitter Josh Satin leading off the inning. Luis Avilan got Mets newcomer Eric Young Jr. to hit into a double play, and Craig Kimbrel struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 20th save in 23 chances.
NOTES: Young started in center field and led off for the Mets, less than 24 hours after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies. He singled on the second pitch of the game and finished 1 for 4. ... B.J. Upton had two hits and a walk. ... The Mets placed RHP Scott Atchison back on the disabled list after he injured his right groin while warming up for an appearance Tuesday night. He had just come off the DL for an ailing elbow, but didn't even make an actual pitch before getting hurt again. ... In the finale of the five-game series Thursday, New York's Jonathon Niese (3-6) will face Mike Minor (8-2).
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