NEW YORK – Zack Wheeler took the loss for the New York Mets. Right fielder Marlon Byrd took the blame.
Wheeler didn't have no-hit stuff on Sunday, and Byrd misplayed two flyballs against the mistake-free Kansas City Royals, who beat the Mets 6-2 to take the rubber game of the three-game interleague series.
These days the Royals don't need any outside help. After having a nine-game winning streak broken in the series opener, Kansas City bounced back to take the next two and finish an 8-1 road trip — the best in franchise history.
Byrd's gaffes came during a three-run Royals fifth, with one falling for a double and the other glancing off his glove for an error.
"That killed Wheeler's momentum," Byrd said. "I chalk it up to, 'I need to get better with sun balls.' I can't misplay two balls in a game like that.
"It's tough knowing you're the reason you lost the game. Somewhere, somehow I need to figure out a way to catch those. I knew it was going to be tough in batting practice."
Royals starter Ervin Santana scattered five hits and allowed one run in six innings. He was backed by an 11-hit attack. Every Kansas City player who had an at-bat had at least one hit, except for catcher George Kotarras, who walked three times and was hit by a pitch in an 0 for 1 day.
Mets manager Terry Collins absolved Wheeler for some of the misfortune, but also used the game as a teaching tool for the rookie right-hander.
"He pitched fine. It's one of those days when things happened that wasn't his fault," Collins said. "I told him that in times like that you have to dial it up and make a statement, 'This is it boys. I'm putting an end to this right here. This thing is over.' You don't worry about not having anything left at the end of the inning, you just put an end to it."
Santana (8-6) has three wins and a no-decision in his past four starts, giving up four earned runs. He is 5-1 since the beginning of June and has posted a 1.27 ERA since the All-Star break.
"Keep the ball down, throw strikes, and that's it," he said. "That's what I know I can do."
Wheeler (4-2) lost for the first time in six starts. He gave up four runs — three earned — and issued five walks in five innings.
"It's too bad we couldn't hit the ball that high today and get their right fielder involved," Collins said. "Had it been a cloudy day, it's 1-1."
Wheeler wasn't nearly as sharp as in his previous start Tuesday at Miami when he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. That combined with the shaky defense did him in. He fell behind 1-0 in the fourth inning on Mike Moustakas' 10th homer, and the Royals batted around in the decisive fifth.
"Wheeler is a nice-looking young pitcher, but I kind of liked the matchup because our hitters are young, good, fastball hitters and Wheeler sports a pretty good fastball," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We had some great at-bats. We took advantage of opportunities, we pitched well and played great defense."
The trouble started for Wheeler right away in the fifth when David Lough lofted a fly ball that Byrd got under but couldn't catch as he battled the sun. Lough didn't run hard out of the box, yet still made it to second base with a double.
Miguel Tejada bunted him to third, but Lough was forced to leave the game because of right quadriceps tightness. With Eric Hosmer batting, pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson scored on the first of Wheeler's two wild pitches in the inning to make it 2-0.
Hosmer walked, and Alex Gordon lofted a fly to deep right field that Byrd tracked to the fence. He again struggled with the sun, and the ball hit his mitt and fell to the ground, sending Gordon to second on the error.
Lorenzo Cain then lined a shot to right that Byrd pulled up on and bobbled. Hosmer, who had held up, nearly got lapped by the speedy Gordon as both runners scored almost side by side to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.
Wheeler threw another wild pitch, and John Buck was charged with a passed ball as Kansas City reloaded the bases. Wheeler struck out Santana looking to end the inning.
"Picking it up and getting past stuff in the field is something I've always prided myself in doing," Wheeler said. "It didn't happen today."
The Mets got one run back in the bottom half on Eric Young Jr.'s RBI single. However, Byrd's tough day continued when he struck out with the bases loaded.
Kansas City tacked on two runs in the sixth after Gonzalez Germen relieved Wheeler to make it 6-1.
Buck, awaiting the imminent birth of his son, had an RBI single in the eighth to get the Mets within 6-2.
NOTES: Yost said Lough is playing at 80-85 percent. He won't play the next two games. ... New York 2B Daniel Murphy moved back into his usual No. 2 spot after hitting No. 5 the previous two days. He also lost a ball in the sun. ... The Royals have allowed fewer than five runs in each of the past 12 games, the second time they have done that this season. Only four other teams have done it once. ... The Mets dropped to 4-5 vs. the Royals in three series the teams have played.