So Manuel, the increasingly put-upon Mets manager, gathered his soldiers early Thursday evening, some 90 minutes before Bobby Parnell was to make his seventh big league start, against the Marlins. And some five hours and 13 runs later, Manuel suggested he might not call additional meetings. The "let's finish strong" address he had delivered clearly had none of the desired effect Thursday.
Having played ineffectively in their first two games against the Fish on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Mets played poorly Thursday night and suffered a double indignity -- a 13-4 defeat and a sweep at home. Moreover, they hardly polished the image of their manager. "We seem to play this way every time I call a meeting," Manuel said ruefully.
The Mets' performance was -- to use a sniglet created years ago by Dan Quisenberry -- flawful, as in full of flaws. One error was changed to their defense, but the team was guilty of several other defensive misplays that didn't justify E's, including Fernando Tatis taking a throw at first base with neither foot on the bag.
And at the same time, Angel Pagan underscored his image as a flawed player with two more baserunning gaffes, one caused by his not knowing the number of outs.
New York's 78th loss showcased other deficiencies. The Mets were outhit, 16-10; they ended the series with no home runs, compared to five by the Marlins. And the pitching staff that has allowed the most bases on balls in the National League padded its lead by seven.
As a result, the Mets lost for the sixth time in nine home games against the Fish, and the 27th time in their past 40 games overall. The record is 16 below .500 for the first time this season, and their winning percentage at Citi Field is down to .500. They are 13 games from second place, nine from third and so far from first that three losses in Philly this weekend will end the process of elimination that began in earnest in June.
With all that in their way, Manuel wants his team to push. His message was not to treat the end of the season as the end of a sentence, but merely a pause in their ongoing pursuit of a championship. He urged them to punctuate with a comma, not a period, after their 162nd game.
"Despite where we are in the standings, the quest for a championship continues," Manuel said.
"He told us," one player said, "it's all part of a process."
The part that played out Thursday was as unbecoming as any the Mets had produced in their first 139 games. Parnell was the losing pitcher and something of a victim. He allowed three runs in the first inning, walking in two of them. But Anderson Hernandez botched a ground ball that had a degree of double-play potential before successive walks to Jorge Cantu and John Baker and a run-scoring single by Cody Ross.
Parnell (3-8) pitched five innings, allowing another three runs, one coming on a home run by Dan Uggla in the third that put the Mets in arrears 4-0 for the third straight game. They never led in the three games. Parnell walked five and surrendered seven hits. He has allowed 32 runs, 45 hits and 17 walks in 39 innings and produced a 1-5 record in seven starts.
Manuel danced around the issue of whether Parnell would remain in the rotation. The return of John Maine, now scheduled to start the first game of the day-night doubleheader against the Phillies on Sunday, may afford the manager an option for the rotation. That's part of the process, too.
Sean Green, Pedro Feliciano and Lance Broadway, the second, third and fifth Mets relievers, also allowed runs after Tobi Stoner, who made his big league debut, pitched the sixth. Sean West, the first of five Marlins pitchers, started and pitched four-plus innings. Reliever Burke Badenhop (7-4) was the winning pitcher.
The Fish had trouble keeping Pagan (three hits and a walk) and Jeff Francoeur (three hits) off the bases. But the Mets had trouble getting them in. Francoeur scored one run, Pagan none. But then, he twice was eliminated as a runner because of his own mistakes.
Pagan was put out in a rundown between second and third in the fifth inning when he tried to advance on a ground ball to shortstop. A run scored on the ground ball David Wright hit, and Wright reached base. But Pagan had erred in judgment and then not extended the rundown so that Wright could reach second.
Two innings later, Pagan was on second and Luis Castillo was on first with one out when Francoeur flied to right. Pagan, thinking two were out, kept running.
"Right now, I'm having a rough time on the bases," Pagan said. "It can happen to anyone."
But it has happened more often with him.
"I know I'm not playing championship level baseball like I'd like to. ... There are a lot of games to play, more games to get it right. I'm doing everything in my power to do it right. I've very disappointed in myself. But I can't put my head down. I can't let this beat me. Mental mistakes ... they hurt a lot. I've got to keep my head up."
Manuel acknowledged Pagan's mistakes -- Thursday night and previously -- and said, "You have to be somewhat concerned."
The manager called them "very unfortunate" and said Pagan had a "tough day."
Pagan wasn't alone.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.