- Jorge Arangure Jr.
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NEW YORK -- Between the signs of resignation and the halfhearted attempts at optimism, there yet was one slight sign the New York Mets might have some life left in their floundering season. As a despondent Mets clubhouse emptied after a crushing 7-4 loss against the Florida Marlins on Friday, which took New York out of first place for the first time since May 15, third baseman David Wright delivered a strong message, and a challenge, to himself and his teammates.
Remarkably, New York, which on Sept. 12 led the National League East by seven games and now trails the Philadelphia Phillies by one game with two to play, is just one loss from possible elimination.
"Personally, I'm embarrassed," Wright said. "It's pretty pathetic that we have this division within our grasp with seven home games and we can't find a way to win one of them. It's a bad feeling. The fans deserve better, ownership deserves better, the front office deserves better, Willie [Randolph] and the coaching staff deserve better. This is on the players. It's easy to point a finger at somebody. There are 25 of us in this clubhouse. We have to look at each other, and that's where the blame is.
"With that being said, there are two big games left. If we go out and win the next two, it puts a lot of pressure on Philadelphia. We know what it's like to be chased. Now all of a sudden, the pressure turns to them."
As the Mets face the end of their season, they might have finally found a leader in their clubhouse. Yet it may be too late.
A loss on Saturday to the Marlins, coupled with a Phillies victory against the Washington Nationals, would push the Mets out of the playoffs and would make dubious history. No team in baseball history has squandered a seven-game lead with 17 games to play as the Mets seem ready to do.
The Mets have now lost eight consecutive games at Shea Stadium for the first time since 2004 during the dreaded Art Howe manager era. That slide in the last part of the year pushed the Mets to hire Willie Randolph, whose own job tenure may now be challenged as well, as unbelievable as that may be.
"You don't expect things to happen this way," Randolph said. "When it happens like this, it's hard to figure out."
Randolph appeared to be a beaten man after the game. He did not muster words of encouragement and he did not offer the usual optimism. Randolph said he would not make any more speeches or call any more meetings.
"We've talked about what we need to talk about," Randolph said. "There are no more messages."
On any other occasion the sound made by the Shea crowd after a Moises Alou at-bat would be a collective "Alouuu," and yet at the end of the seventh inning, after an Alou strikeout with two men on base, the crowd chanted "boooo" in unison instead. And then the crowd gasped, further dismayed by its slumping team.
Alou's strikeout in the seventh ended the Mets' final chance at a rally. With one out, Mets second baseman Luis Castillo and Wright had both singled with the Mets trailing 7-4. But Marlins reliever Matt Lindstrom struck out Carlos Beltran and Alou to end the inning.
Alou's strikeout quieted the Shea crowd, a group criticized on talk radio Friday for being too passive during Thursday's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The fans were boisterous and loud Friday, almost like a playoff crowd. They again mustered up energy in the ninth when Jose Reyes led off the inning with a single. Yet the Mets could not rally against Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, who got the next three outs to end the game.
Personally, I'm embarrassed. It's pretty pathetic that we have this division within our grasp with seven home games and we can't find a way to win one of them. It's a bad feeling. ... This is on the players. It's easy to point a finger at somebody. There are 25 of us in this clubhouse. We have to look at each other, and that's where the blame is.
--Mets third baseman David Wright
Had Mets starter Oliver Perez given a strong performance, perhaps four runs would have been enough. Instead, Perez allowed six runs in just 3 2/3 innings and lost every bit of his way in the third inning when he allowed two runs to score by hitting two Marlins with the bases loaded. Perez hit three batters in the third, which tied a major league record held by many.
The Mets at this point are simply begging for a win.
"Early in the week it was a pride thing for us to win the division," Alou said. "Now we have to get in any way we can get in."
That the Mets should flounder so badly against the Nationals and Marlins, the two teams in the bottom of their division, is astounding. The Marlins seemed ripe to be swept. The collective ERA of the three Marlins starters scheduled to pitch against the Mets was a ghastly 5.61. Yet the Mets hardly pounded Friday starter Byung-Hyun Kim, who allowed only three runs in five innings. It appears the Mets have brought out the best in their weak opponents.
Speaking to no one in particular, Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, before the game, stood up from his seat in the clubhouse and shouted, "The Mets are going home like us."
After the win, the Marlins celebrated as if they, not the Phillies, had just taken a one-game lead in the NL East. Marlins players high-fived each other, gleefully shook hands and jumped in the air to chest-bump one another.
The sullen Mets, who had seemed so upbeat before the game, slowly filed into their clubhouse.
"The Nats and Marlins have played with a lot of pride," Wright admitted.
Wright is now asking for his Mets do the same.
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
David Wright is stepping up to challenge his Mets teammates, but his words might be too late to avoid a historic collapse.