Loss on final day ends Mets' season

Big first inning spoils Mets' hopes

NEW YORK -- The process of elimination now is complete. The National League postseason will be staged without the Mets. The unfathomable decline that began in the final days of August became a full-fledged, unconditional meltdown of historic proportions Sunday when the formerly first-place team was spanked by a riled opponent and sent to its room.

In some ways, the end of the Mets' season was more unbecoming than the steep and almost inexplicable five-week decline that preceded it. But the season shortfall it produced is as damaging to the franchise as anything the Mets have endured in the 20 years since the loss to the Dodgers in the 1988 NL Championship Series. And it undoubtedly carries ramifications.

The loss to the motivated Marlins that occurred Sunday -- the defeat that denied the Mets one last shot at the Phillies -- was an 8-1 black eye, replete with a seven-run first inning against Tom Glavine that permanently defaced the resumes of the men who participated in it.

"We've got a clubhouse filled with quality, accountable players who are stained now," David Wright said.

The Mets began the season as favorites to win the National League East. They were nobody's favorite by Saturday night. The Marlins considered the Mets' on-field celebrating Saturday afternoon excessive, a slap in the face. So they slapped back Sunday, playing with greater purpose than a last-place team usually demonstrates in its final game.

To some degree, the Mets were battered because of what they did Saturday. And now they will be identified forever for what they didn't do in the final weeks. No team that had led its division or league by at least seven games with as few as 17 games remaining finished anywhere but in first place.

Manager Willie Randolph, his job security not an issue, according to general manager Omar Minaya, said the Mets can recover from their shortfall. Winning next season, he said, can remove the graffiti that reads second place.

But these Mets now are inexorably linked to the events that distinguish them, as only three other Mets teams are. Their mere mention -- the merger of number and noun -- will conjure an image as powerful and distinctive as the '68 Democratic Convention, the '57 Chevy, the 18-wheeler or The Three Bears.

The '62 Mets were recognized for their inept play.

The '69 Mets were makers of a miracle.

The '86 Mets were renowned for their success, dominance, partying and arrogance -- though not necessarily in that order.

And, as of Sunday, the '07 Mets are linked to the Dodgers of '51, the Phillies of '64 and the Blue Jays of '87. Their distinction, their infamy is, "We didn't get it done."

Those words, or variations thereof, were spoken by so many of them -- Wright, Glavine, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado -- in the final postmortem of the season.

"We had plenty of opportunties to wrap this thing up and we didn't," Wright said repeatedly. "We did this to ourselves."

Not completely. The Phillies made a marvelous run. And come February when some of the '07 Mets reassemble in Port St. Lucie, Fla., they will acknowledge the Phillies' role. But for now, the Mets are all about pointing their collective finger at the image in the mirror.

"We had plenty of opportunties to wrap this thing up and we didn't. We did this to ourselves."
-- David Wright

"It's our fault," Beltran said.

"You have to play 162 games, and we didn't," Delgado said.

"We shouldn't be in this situation," John Maine said. "But we are because of what we didn't do."

And Wright finally bottom-lined it.

"We don't deserve to be in the playoffs," he said.

Not after losing 15 times in 17 games; not, as Wright pointed out, "after you lose six out of seven at home where we have a great home-field advantage;" and not when the final record against intradivision opponents is 35-37.

"I still can't believe how we played here," Randolph said.

Perhaps, in a perverse way, these are the Amazin' Mets.

Randolph couldn't justify in his mind the evolution that took his team from first to its worst, how the last weekend changed desperation to despair. His players were similarly shocked and incongruous. How did they let this happen?

The question applied not only to the season but also its final game.

Glavine, the most seasoned and accomplished Mets starting pitcher, retired one of the nine batters he faced in the first inning. He allowed five hits and two walks, committed a throwing error and hit the opposing pitcher with the bases loaded. Amazin'.

Glavine had allowed seven runs in an inning once previously -- in 1989. He had faced fewer batters -- four -- once. The Mets had allowed seven in a first inning at home in only three times in 46 seasons. Glavine walked off the Shea Stadium field, perhaps for the last time, escorted by loud -- but controlled -- booing and dashed hopes.

The Mets scored a run in the bottom of the inning against Dontrelle Willis. They lost Delgado to a broken left hand when he was hit with a pitch during the inning, but they left eight runners on base in the first three innings and barely threatened the five relievers who followed Willis. The Mets managed two hits in the last eight innings. Amazin'.

Their greatest threat came when Ramon Castro, starting in place of injured Paul Lo Duca, flied out to deep left with the bases loaded for the final out of the first. He saw four runs coming from that grand swing. But the swing didn't get it done, either.

So the Mets face an offseason of uncertainty, questions and more hand-wringing than they can imagine.

"This will take a while to get past, but it can be done," Randolph said. He called the decline and final game loss, "a life lesson in baseball."

Glavine had started the repair before he departed. He wasn't devastated, just disappointed. He saves "devastation" for the things "that really count" more than a game played on a field.

Reyes, booed more than any Mets player Sunday -- even Guillermo Mota -- faces his conscience.

And all of them face an empty October they hadn't planned.

"[The Mets making the playoffs] was like a done deal in Spring Training," Alou said. "I feel so bad for all the guys. I didn't make any plans for October. I wasn't going to go to the beach house. I was going to be here through October."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.