Mets held at bay by first-place Marlins

Mets drop opener against Marlins

NEW YORK -- Even as the issue of their manager's job security seemingly was resolved Monday, the Mets had their eyes on first place in the National League East. It was in the other dugout. There on the other side of the Shea Stadium field were the Marlins, first-place occupants. Their presence there was only slightly more surprising than the Mets' stranglehold on fourth. First place was the last place the Fish were expected to be when they arrived at Shea on Memorial Day.

The living quarters of their opponents are about as much of first place as the Mets are about to see this week. Their ongoing struggles took no holiday Monday, and the resulting 7-3 loss pushed them 6 1/2 games from the lead and put their record three games under .500. Imagine that. The Mets have played 49 games, the Fish 50. And the Mets have seven fewer victories and six more losses. Perhaps these are the Amazin' Mets.

"I wouldn't have planned it that way. I didn't expect it," David Wright said.

And who did? But now with almost one-third of their season gone, the Mets are further from first place than they have been since the final day of the 2005 season.

"We've dug ourselves a hole. Now we'll see what we're made of," Wright said.

His words applied to the game as well as the season. On this night, the hole was too deep. The scenario is quite familiar. The Mets' records now are 1-19 when they trail after six innings, 1-23 when they trail after seven and 0-24 when they trail after eight. None of the three R's -- resolve, resilience and resourcefulness -- have been particularly conspicuous. "Obviously, we're not a good comeback team," manager Willie Randolph said.

Too bad, because this Mets team is pretty good at falling behind.

They did Monday night before they batted and again after they led 3-2. Hours after Randolph wasn't dismissed, the Marlins dismissed the Mets and, it seemed, demoralized them, too. Jose Reyes hit his second home run of the night in the second inning to produce the Mets' lead. And from that point forward, he and his mates produced six baserunners. The Mets' final 15 batters were retired.

The Marlins produced as many baserunners in a seven-batter sequence against Mike Pelfrey in the third inning and made four runs and their sixth victory in seven games out of them.

From his seat in the dugout, veteran Damion Easley watched. Later, he spoke: "We had focus and plenty of energy early," he said. "Then they scored four with two outs. After that, it seemed like we never got back into it." Easley wasn't talking runs, he was talking energy and focus.

So, just as general manager Omar Minaya promised after he announced Randolph's job was secure, nothing would change. Nothing did. The MO of this loss, the Mets' seventh in eight games, was consistent with three of the four losses they endured in Atlanta last week and their loss in Denver on Sunday. They seemingly have perfected the nothing-across inning. They have produced 32 in the eight games (76 innings) -- 42 percent.

"It's pretty hard to manage when no one's on base," one of Randolph's in-uniform supporters said.

And it's not as though they had faced Atlanta's Tim Hudson or Colorado's Aaron Cook on Monday, though the results were similar. But this was Ricky Nolasco, who now has a 4-3 record and 4.70 ERA. But Pelfrey, who has lost six consecutive starts -- the Mets have lost his last seven -- allowed six hits and three walks and hit a batter in a 22-batter sequence that lasted four innings. So, Nolasco didn't have to be that effective. And he wasn't; he allowed nine hits and two walks in his five innings.

After Florida scored two in the top of the first, Reyes led off the bottom of the first with a home run for the 11th time in his career, a franchise record. A sacrifice fly by Carlos Delgado tied the score. Then, in the second, Reyes made this the fifth multihomer game of his career. An infield hit by Luis Castillo immediately followed. They then proceeded to hit .125 in their last 24 at-bats.

When it was over, Reyes, among others, said, "We have a good team, we're going to be fine" or something akin to it.

The game had begun with such promise for the Mets -- even with the two-out error by Reyes in the first that initiated a two-run rally against Pelfrey (2-6).

Reyes hit his leadoff home run, and Castillo and Wright singled. Then the cleanup man, Carlos Beltran, bunted for a basehit. Hmmmm. Delgado's sacrifice fly, the first of three straight outs, seemed like a pin in a balloon. And this after their manager had been spared -- Minaya said dismissal wasn't considered.

"After we got all that out of the way," Wright said, "we would have loved to have gone out and made a statement and played a clean, crisp game."

They didn't play a clean, crisp game. They made a statement, though.

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