First place in the National League East and the buoyant feeling that accompanied the past five weeks they occupied that spot slipped away from the Mets last night at Citi Field. The hot start by aging Bartolo Colon that was such a big part of the Mets' feel-good story gave way to reality as Colon looked like the 42-year-old he will be on Sunday while giving up every run in the Mets' 9-0 loss to the Cardinals.

Colon (6-3) entered the game trying to become the first pitcher in the majors to reach seven wins this season, but he lasted a season-low 4 1/3 innings while giving up 11 hits and eight earned runs. The loss dropped the Mets (23-18) to second in the NL East one game behind Washington (24-17), which came from behind to beat the Yankees, 3-2, in interleague play.

With a glance at the calendar, Terry Collins downplayed the disappointing nature of the Mets' recent slide. "We're not even out of May," Collins said. "There's a lot of baseball left.

"There is no panic here. Not in the clubhouse. Not anyplace else. A lot of people want to talk about the Nationals. Did they panic when they were 2-6? No, and we're not going to panic either."

Collins' main concern was Colon's failure to locate his fastball. Colon allowed the leadoff hitter in the first five innings to reach base. Kolten Wong opened the game with a single and scored on a ground-rule double by Jhonny Peralta for a 1-0 lead that stood through three innings.

"When you're facing a team that swings the bats like these guys, you just have to make good pitches and he didn't," Collins said. "We need to take a look at whether we need to give him a day here and there. He's in his early 40s, so we've got to manage that."

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The gentle humor associated with Colon's adventurous at-bats surfaced last night when he reached base on an error by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina leading off the third inning. But grins turned to groans when Colon couldn't score from second on a one-out single by Lucas Duda and then failed to tag up at third and score on a liner by Michael Cuddyer that centerfielder Randal Grichuk dove to catch.

"I don't know if running the bases [tired him]," Collins said. "I know a lot of people get entertained by that, but I don't think it's that funny myself. That's the first time he's had to do that all year long. Maybe that's why the next inning he didn't have much. I don't think I've ever seen him struggle so much with the command."

Colon gave up six runs in the fourth, starting with a leadoff home run by Jason Heyward and ending with a three-run homer to deep right-centerfield by Matt Adams. In between, Colon gave up a walk that ended his club-record streak without a walk at 481/3 innings.

Through an interpreter, Colon said his baserunning stint had nothing to do with his performance in the fourth. "I got my behind whipped," Colon said. "It always hurts when the leadoff batter is on because it makes you try to be too fine with your pitches. That's when big innings happen."

As depressing a performance as it might have been to fall out of first place, Cuddyer assured, "By no means are we scoreboard watching on May 20."