The win didn't slip away so much as it tumbled from the Mets' grasp on Friday night. With it went a few of the good vibes the Mets had collected over the previous three days, not to mention their air of invincibility. On the calendar, this 9-5 loss to the Dodgers was simply another blip in a season full of them. In the clubhouse it was a bit more wearisome.
"It's obviously one that we let slip away," David Wright said. "To be the kind of team that we want to be, these are the ones that we've got to have."
So the Mets haven't yet reached the level that they hoped -- and rightfully expected -- to attain. More vexing is the fact that on this night they appeared to step backward.
They squandered opportunities, then earned new chances and squandered those, too. But the Mets hung in, twice coming from behind, and in the seventh inning, they captured their first lead. That one-run margin could have been all they needed.
Heilman watched it all from the bullpen, then he watched as Juan Pierre rolled a grounder to shortstop to open the eighth inning. Jose Reyes fielded it and fired to Carlos Delgado. The ball popped into Delgado's glove, and Pierre crossed the bag -- in that order. Video replays confirmed as much. But Pierre was ruled safe, and the rally had begun.
Still, Pierre was only one baserunner. Things could have been worse.
The damage instead came next, when Heilman entered the game. First he allowed a double. Then a single. Then another. Then another. He faced four batters in all, and all reached base. Scott Schoeneweis came on in relief and allowed two inherited runs to score, spraying a bit more ink onto Heilman's final line.
Heilman had given up four runs in all, in zero innings pitched. After the Dodgers recorded six more outs, Heilman absorbed his second loss in eight days, and the Mets were left where they started at the beginning of the week -- wondering how things might change.
"I'm certainly feeling a lot more comfortable out there," Heilman said.
"Actually, he's been throwing the ball pretty well," Randolph said.
But there's always a caveat.
"Aaron's problem the whole time has always been location," Randolph said. "His stuff is just as good as anyone's down there besides Billy [Wagner]."
That, however, did not translate into results. Starter John Maine, too, has immense talent, but he couldn't harness it early, walking Pierre on four pitches to lead off the game. Pierre and two others scored in that inning -- "I didn't like the first batter," Maine said -- and the Dodgers touched him for four runs in all.
It was not enough, as the Mets came back to tie the game, profiting mainly from Luis Castillo's two-run homer in the first. Sure, the Dodgers took another lead, but the Mets came right back and tied the game again. Then they took a lead of their own when Ramon Castro broke his bat on a run-scoring infield grounder.
At that point, a full seven innings into the game, it seemed as though the Mets would not lose. Not the way they've been playing lately, with passion and fire and buzzwords galore.
But they did. They lost a game that they certainly could have won.
"It's not an easy game," Wright said. "I wish that in every big situation that we could get a big hit, but unfortunately, the game's a little tougher than that."
That much is obvious. But pardon the Mets for thinking they might have mastered it. Certainly, they seemed to be on to something earlier this week, when they won three straight games and gained tangible heaps of confidence.
What a transformation. It could have been permanent. It might still be.
So the Mets can only hope that Friday night's bad karma was an isolated phenomenon. They can hope that Heilman recovers, and that Castillo, who left the game with a left hip flexor strain, can continue to play. They can hope, in short, for a return to earlier this week.
Or, as Heilman said, "Hopefully, we can start another winning streak."