An implosion by the bullpen had a certain nostalgic touch. And when the offense fell silent after flexing its muscle in the early innings, the sense of last September was inescapable. New York's 7-4 loss could have fit right into the days of Bobby Ayala, Duaner Sanchez and Juan Rincon. All too familiar.
Sean Green, a reliever unfamiliar with last year's slippery slope, surrendered four runs in the seventh inning of this one. The three-run home run Jorge Cantu crushed on "a sinker that didn't sink" was the telling blow in what became the Marlins' first victory in eight games and the Mets' fourth loss in a game in which they had led by at least three runs.
If a difference existed between what happened regularly last season and the fourth loss by the bullpen this year, it was that the damage was inflicted relatively early this time. New York still had three turns at bat against Florida's suspect bullpen after Cantu's second home run.
But the Mets demonstrated almost no resistance against left-handed Dan Meyer and three right-handed successors -- Kiko Calero, Leo Nunez and closer Matt Lindstrom. A two-out single by Fernando Tatis in the eighth inning was the full extent of New York's challenge to a three-run deficit. And that meek response, more than Green's shortfall, was what unsettled Jerry Manuel.
The manager didn't exonerate Green, but he understood that runs happen. Manuel wondered why some didn't happen for his team too after Cantu had produced what proved to be his second decisive hit against the Mets in five games this season.
"We didn't put a run back up. ... That was more of an issue than the 'pen," Manuel said. "Three runs shouldn't be something that's insurmountable. It appears when we get in that position, it's an insurmountable lead. We have to address that. ... I think our anxiety takes over at that time and gets in the way of us performing."
The manager's words hardly constituted a ripping indictment, but they didn't reflect well on the resolve of his still-struggling team. The Mets' record is 9-11, their liabilities appear to outweigh their assets at this early juncture. Their sense of self has changed since Spring Training, when they claimed they were "preparing to win." They have yet to win three games in succession, and they have been a model of inconsistency.
"We can't seem to get hot and sustain it," David Wright said. "We're battling. We have the ability, but we haven't played complete games."
Manuel suggested his team's shortcomings were the result of not taking the proper approach in deficit situations.
"We're trying to figure out what other teams do well in those situations," he said.
Unaware of his manager's remarks, Wright mentioned an absence of "fire and desire." He said, "I think that's what Jerry's talking about."
The Mets, as they are wont to do, had started strong, scoring twice in the first against Ricky Nolasco, both runs on a triple by Gary Sheffield. New York has outscored its opponents, 23-9, in the first inning, and the club has been outscored, 77-70, in subsequent innings. Alex Cora, who played a brilliant game at second base as the understudy for injured Luis Castillo, drove in Omir Santos in the second with a single.
But the Mets managed five additional baserunners. Three came in the fifth when they scored once to afford Livan Hernandez a 4-2 lead. Cora doubled after one out. A walk to Carlos Beltran and Sheffield's strikeout preceded Wright's run-scoring single through the left side.
Hernandez and Bobby Parnell allowed the Marlins' third run in the next inning. Hernandez departed with a runner on first base. A soft single to left by Cantu moved John Baker to second base, and a bad-hop ground ball off Wright -- it was scored an error -- produced the run.
"I'm pretty hard on myself," Wright said. "But there was nothing I could do with that one."
An inning later, Green (0-1) took the bullpen's fourth loss. He surrendered a leadoff walk to Alfredo Amezaga and a one-out chopped single to right by Emilio Bonifacio. After Cameron Maybin drove in Amezaga with a soft roller, Green walked Baker on four pitches and allowed Cantu's home run.
"Walks ... you put men on and, more often than not, they bite you," Green said.
One had bitten Hernandez. Cantu had provided the Marlins' first two runs, hitting his fourth home run against the starter in the fourth inning following a leadoff walk to Baker.
But none of that came up in the postmortems of this one. Manuel has seen the bullpen perform well. He hasn't seen his offense climb out of a hole. The Mets are winless in the 10 games in which have trailed after seven innings. That is the issue.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.