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Amazingly bad Mets sinking fast

NEW YORK - Hopes were so high when the New York Mets moved into Citi Field.

They had a new attitude in a new ballpark.

They were going to put consecutive September collapses behind them.

And then Mike Pelfrey faced San Diego's Jody Gerut, who three pitches in became the first hitter to christen a big league ballpark with a leadoff home run.

It's been pretty much a downward spiral from there, a season gone more stale than an opening-day drink from the Shake Shack in center.

An injury-depleted team with baseball's second-highest payroll is in a free fall, losing 11 of 14 games and dropping five games under .500 for the first time since April 2005. Restless fans paying up to $695 for tickets are booing loudly and often.

Going into Saturday night's meeting with Cincinnati, the Mets had scored 10 runs in seven games and been shut out on four singles in three of their previous five. A New York tabloid regularly has mocked the backups subbing for injured regulars by dubbing them 'The Replace-Mets.'

New York has gone 12-24 following a 28-21 start and fallen 61/2 games behind first-place Philadelphia.

It must have been a lot like this when they went 40-120 at the Polo Grounds in 1962.

Jerry Manuel, who replaced Randolph in June last year, doesn't try to channel Casey Stengel. He turns to other leaders for spiritual counsel these days.

'Shoot, I need Gandhi and King,' he said. 'They went through some stuff.'

Even before injuries to first baseman Carlos Delgado, shortstop Jose Reyes, center fielder Carlos Beltran and pitchers John Maine, Oliver Perez and J.J. Putz, the Mets embarked upon a never-ending series of lowlights. Fielding flubs occurred nearly as frequently as home runs.

On April 12, the day before the Citi Field opener, left fielder Daniel Murphy dropped Cody Ross' flyball for a two-run error at Florida, sending Johan Santana to a 2-1 loss, his first defeat since last June.

On May 17 at San Francisco, Pelfrey became the first Mets pitcher to balk three times in an inning since Don Rowe in 1963 at Philadelphia. The next night in Los Angeles, Ryan Church came around from first base with the apparent go-ahead run in the 11th inning - only to be called out on appeal for missing third base. Miscues by Beltran, a Gold Glove center fielder, and Jeremy Reed, a fill-in first baseman, led to the winning run in the bottom half and gave the Mets five errors in the game.

On June 12 came one for the video history books. Alex Rodriguez popped up with two outs and two on in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, slammed his bat and threw it, thinking he made the last out in an 8-7 Mets victory. Second baseman Luis Castillo, a three-time Gold Glove winner, kept shuffling in shallow right field and, amazingly, he dropped it. Two runs scored, and the Yankees won.

Two days later, Santana was chased after nine runs and nine hits in three-plus innings of a 15-0 loss to the Yankees, the worst start of the two-time Cy Young Award winner's major league career.

And on June 26, errors by third baseman David Wright, shortstop Alex Cora and first baseman Nick Evans helped the Yankees to a 4-0 lead in the second, the Mets' first three-error inning in five years.

Given all that, Manuel found humor Friday when the Mets acquired Jeff Francoeur.

'No. 1, I think he is a tremendous defensive player. You know, I'm not looking for defense right now,' he said, pausing to laugh 11 times before chortling: 'Oh, boy!'