NEW YORK (AP) — Bartolo Colon's final line against the Atlanta Braves didn't look so bad. If not for the first inning, it would've been a whole lot better for the 41-year-old right-hander and the rest of the New York Mets.
Sound familiar? It sure does to Colon, who can't quite figure out why he is struggling so much at the start.
Atlanta scored two runs in the first and added one in the third, then hung on for a 3-1 victory over the Mets on Thursday night to avoid a four-game sweep.
Colon threw extra pitches in the bullpen before the game to try to simulate a later inning when he took the mound, but to no avail.
"The first inning is very important," Colon said through a translator. "I am just having a little trouble, and I am going to work to change that up.
"It really helped for me to get in the bullpen before and throw more than usual. It really warmed me up, loosened me up."
He just couldn't prevent the damage. And with a lack of clutch hitting by Colon's teammates, three runs were enough for Braves starter Aaron Harang to beat the Mets.
Colon (8-8) hung around for eight innings but lost his third consecutive start. He allowed three runs and 10 hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Colon yielded nine hits in the first four innings — at least two in each frame — and didn't retire Atlanta in order until the fifth. He did it again in the sixth, and his run of 10 straight outs was broken up by B.J. Upton's seventh-inning single.
While New York leads the major leagues with 62 runs in the first inning, Colon has given up 18 runs in the opening inning of his 18 starts, and opponents are batting .349 (29 for 83).
"We've got to fix it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's too good a pitcher. This guy gave us eight pretty good innings, but we can't keep falling deep behind. When we're swinging great, anybody can fall behind, but when you're facing a good team you have to give yourself a chance."
The Mets had some opportunities against Harang, but not enough. He allowed four hits in seven innings, and Craig Kimbrel got four outs for his 28th save in 32 attempts.
"It's huge," Harang said after the Braves moved within one percentage point of first-place Washington in the NL East. "Getting swept is tough in a three-game series. A four-game series is just like somebody stepping on your throat."
New York hasn't swept a four-game set from Atlanta since July 1989. The Mets had used timely hitting to win five of the first six on their 10-game homestand.