The Mets, already numb from a season's worth of misfortune, barely felt the finishing blow Wednesday afternoon when the Braves mathematically eliminated them from playoff contention -- for the fifth consecutive year.
With Atlanta beating the Marlins earlier in the day, the Mets knew they were done hours before taking the field against the Nationals. Even though it had been inevitable for weeks, the end is never easy to swallow, especially for a team with a $143-million payroll.
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Then David Wright's fielding error led to two unearned runs in the third inning as the Mets stumbled to the Nationals, 2-0, at Citi Field. Mike Pelfrey (7-12) allowed six hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking two. But Wright's seventh error in nine games dropped the Mets to seven games below .500 (71-78).
"Obviously we are very disappointed in our season," Terry Collins said before the game. "We left spring training with a very, very good baseball team and we couldn't keep it together. That's just the nature of the beast. So we're disappointed with the outcomes of the wins and losses but yet I was very proud of the way we played."
If that had been the extent of the Mets' injuries, they may have stayed afloat into September. But Wright missed more than two months with a stress fracture in his lower back and Jose Reyes had two different stints on the disabled list, each lasting three weeks, because of a left hamstring strain that still is bothering him. Reyes said that he didn't expect to play in Thursday's series finale against the Nats.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with the guys that we didn't have," Jason Bay said. "I don't really think the finality of the Braves winning has that much of a stinging effect. I think it's just been a reality a lot of us have had. We've just put our heads down, tried to win baseball games and not worry about that."
After a turbulent winter that involved a complete restructuring of the front office and the hiring of a new manager -- not to mention the revelation of crippling financial distress -- the Mets were picked to finish near or at the bottom of the division.
"We were a team that had to scratch and claw and all we were looking for was a chance to be in it," Bay said. "We had it, and for whatever reason, we let it slip away. When you look at those teams in front of us, and you look at those teams on paper as compared to us, they're better than us."
The Mets never got within 10 games of the Phillies after July 7. Their pinnacle was July 29, when they reached a season-high four games over .500 (55-51) and trailed the wild-card leading Braves by 6 1/2 games. After that, the Mets lost five straight and never recovered as playoff aspirations gave way to looking ahead to 2012.
"It's a fine line between trying to win now and preparing for the future," Wright said. "I never would have thought we'd be in the position that we're in, after the short burst of success that we had. But each year you don't go the playoffs, it's a failed opportunity."
If the Mets can win 10 of their final 13 games, they can finish at .500. That still sends them home for October, but at least it's not a losing season.
"In spring training, the main thing is to win the division or the wild card -- win something," Reyes said. "I remember 2006. Man, that was fun."