Another loss had put in place a series of inconvenient truths that convinced this now-fragile team that fate should be penalized for piling on and unnecessary roughness. "Absolutely the worst," Billy Wagner said without room for retort. "If it gets worse than this ... I don't think it can."
The Mets hadn't merely lost to the Padres Sunday; they had been caught behind and swept. And worse, they had lost in a most spectacular manner. Tony Clark had hit a three-run home run against Wagner in the eighth inning to change a potential Mets victory into a most vexing 8-6 defeat. And worse still, there was irony to make it all seem more painful.
On the one day in four when they get passed their recent offensive shortfalls, the Mets produced the one day in four when they couldn't achieve outs.
"I don't know what to say," Willie Randolph said. "I'm not usually at a loss for words. We finally score some runs. Billy, who's been lights out all year gives it up. It's not the kind of team we are."
But it is. It has been, at least.
"It makes you want to puke," Wagner said. "If I didn't have four kids and a good life, I'd kill myself right now. That's how bad it is. I'm a little bit more than just a baseball player. I have other things. But if I didn't ..."
But at least the Mets had a long flight home and an off-day to extend the mourning period and add to the collective trauma. The words "perfect storm" were spoken in the clubhouse, preceded by the most widely used present participle in the English language.
After three days in this SoCal utopia, the Mets had found Surf City, where it's 2-1, so distasteful, they would have returned early to the sauna conditions that engulf the East. But there was one more game here in the city where it's almost always 70. And when that game pulled an 11th-hour 180, the Mets were left to wonder if they should have considered an alternative activity.
"Ramon had the right idea," one them said. "If we all just showed up late and forfeited, it would have hurt like this." Ramon Castro had seen the game's starting time as 4:05 p.m., as it was on the East Coast. He arrived late at the park, was removed from the lineup and fined. Watching Clark's pinch-hit home run clear the center-field wall was a worse punishment. "Can you believe that?" he said.
A few blurred moments later, piling on happened. They recognized the ripple effect. The Mets had lost five of seven games to the have-not Giants and Padres when, a week earlier, they had thought the opposite record was quite plausible. They had lost four straight games to a team Wagner characterized as "not in the upper echelon" and put their record at 30-32. They had suffered a four-game sweep for the second time in 19 days. And they had fallen 7 1/2 behind the Phillies, further, by one half game, from first place than the Phillies were when the Mets' collapse began last September. Somehow that seemed relevant.
"I wouldn't say we're in trouble," said Moises Alou, who intends to end his assignment to the disabled list on Tuesday. "But we have to get it back together quick. It's hard to play catch up."
Moreover, they had lost games started by Johan Santana (on Saturday night) and Pedro Martinez (on Sunday) and were moving forward to play the first-place Diamondbacks with their opponents rotation set up in a perfect-storm sequence -- Micah Owings, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Unnecessary roughness indeed.
All this when the day had begun -- Castro's tardiness aside -- with such promise. The Mets scored as many runs in the first inning against Wil Ledezma as they had in the first three games of the series. And though Martinez allowed three in the bottom of the inning, the Mets led 5-3 after 3 1/2 innings and 6-4 as late as the middle of the eighth. They needed six outs to knock about five hours off their pending flight.
Wagner was summoned after fatigued Duaner Sanchez had allowed two base runners and retired two batters. He was making his second eighth-inning appearance this season.
"When [Jody Gerut] swung at the first pitch, I said 'Oh, he's going to be aggressive.'" Wagner delivered his next pitch, a slider he wanted to break outside the strike zone. It disobeyed. The resulting single produced a run and enraged the Mets closer. "I couldn't have done a worst job with that pitch," he said.
Clark, the one time Met and a fearsome slugger was next. "He's a great guy," Wagner would say later. "Everyone likes Tony ... I don't like him very much right now."
Clark had turned around a low and away, 3-2 fastball. His good friend Damion Easley was in left field with an unobstructed view. "I've seen it many times before," Easley said.
The Mets were troubled, too, by squandering a start by Martinez, not that he had pitched well. "When he pitches and Johan [Santana] and [John] Maine pitch, those are the games we should get," Wagner said of Martinez's outing was filled with flaws, some by plate umpire Laz Diaz who had irritated Wagner(0-1) during Clark's at bat. Martinez pitched merely five innings, allowing 10 hits and four runs. He also hit a batter and committed a balk with runners on first and second base.
Then things got ugly for him. In the first, the Mets had scored three times against Ledezma, two of the runs coming on a triple by Carlos Delgado, his first since 2006, and the other on a single by Easley. Luis Castillo drove in a run in the second with a sacrifice fly and in the fourth with a single. Endy Chavez's two-out drag bunt scored Delgado with the sixth run in the seventh inning. Delgado had three hits for the second straight game.
Easley made a brilliant running catch with his back to the wall in the sixth when Luke Carlin, the first batter to face Claudio Vargas, crushed a ball to left-center field. Chavez, playing again in place of Ryan Church, threw out Edgar Gonzalez at third base in the first inning, providing one of six outs Martinez achieved via means other than fly balls.
"We did a lot of good things," David Wright said. "And it didn't work out. We have to find a way to make it work."
They thought they had before they flew to California. Now they're flying back.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.