"But you can't sulk on what could have been," third baseman David Wright said.
As far as excruciating losses go, this did not rank near the top of the charts. This was not the sharp, sudden sort of pain, but instead the nagging, throbbing, downright damaging kind. From Friday's first pitch to its last, more than 3 1/2 hours later, the Marlins outplayed the Mets in every aspect of the game.
And the Mets could contain all that for only so long. The Marlins scored in four separate innings, off three separate pitchers, winning with walks and singles and a stray home run. There was no defining moment, nor would the Mets want to search for one. There was just one team beating another, steadily and consistently.
Mike Pelfrey allowed three runs in six inefficient innings, and the bullpen could not keep the deficit there. Rookie Bobby Parnell allowed two runs without recording an out. Pedro Feliciano threw one pitch and hit a batter. Aaron Heilman did record two outs, but not before also issuing two walks.
And that was it. That was all the Marlins needed. The Mets scored once, when Brian Schneider grounded into a fielder's choice in the sixth, but otherwise remained quiet against a sharp Chris Volstad and a sharper bullpen.
"Sometimes it's difficult to figure us out," manager Jerry Manuel said, referring to his team's propensity for winning games when they're running bad and losing games when they're apparently hot. "We might end up winning the whole thing now, in the position we're in. This is the kind of stuff that we like. But my God, it's tough on me."
On another night, in another month, this type of loss might not even have affected the Mets -- all teams endure nights when they are flat-out beat. But the implications of this one weighed heavily on the Mets, who suffered through this precise situation last year. Tied with the Phillies heading into the final weekend, they lost to the Marlins on Friday night to lose control of their own destiny.
They were saved, albeit temporarily, by John Maine, who fired a one-hit masterpiece the following day to buoy the Mets. And then they lost on the season's final day to complete an historic collapse.
So the Mets will look for Johan Santana, on three days' rest, to be this year's version of Maine. They will attempt to win and they will continue to hope, because they now have no other choice.
"Mathematically, we are not out of anything," Pelfrey said.
"We still have some life," Jose Reyes added, ignoring the fact that they once had much more.
It made sense for the Mets to worry about the Marlins heading into this week, especially considering the context -- the Marlins had knocked them out of playoff contention under similar circumstances last year -- and the rivalry. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez made it no secret heading into this series that he wanted his team to play the role of spoiler, indicating that if he couldn't enjoy the postseason, he didn't want the Mets to, either.
So the Mets prepared for all that adversity as well as any team can.
"That's a good thing," Manuel said, knowing he wouldn't have to worry about intensity, or focus or any other problem of that ilk. But the Mets couldn't have prepared for what actually happened: they got beat.
With no one to blame but themselves, the Mets, quite simply and quite completely, got beat. Their offense was inferior to that of the Marlins, as was their starting pitching and their bullpen. Three facets of the game -- all three of them losses.
But their distress ran deeper -- back to earlier this week, when they lost two to the Cubs, and to the prior week, when they lost three straight to the Braves and Nationals. It even went back -- much as they hate to admit it -- to last year, when they faced this exact same situation in this exact same spot.
"It didn't happen overnight," Wright said. "We didn't blink and then all of the sudden, we're a game back in the Wild Card. We've done this to ourselves. We dug ourselves a hole. Now it's up to us to dig ourselves out of that hole."