MIAMI - Steven Matz made his return to the mound for the Mets on Sunday but left after 5 1/3 innings because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
The Long Island lefty was in position for a win, but Tyler Clippard couldn't hold a one-run lead in the eighth and gave up a walk-off sacrifice fly to Martin Prado in the ninth as the Mets fell to the Marlins, 4-3.
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The Mets' NL East lead over the Nationals was trimmed to four games going into a three-game series in Washington that begins Monday afternoon. The Nationals, who have won five in a row, have shaved 2 1/2 games off the deficit since Thursday.
"We'll bounce back," manager Terry Collins said. "That's what you've got to do. It's a pennant race."
Matz had a 3-2 lead on home runs by Yoenis Cespedes (solo shot in the first) and Wilmer Flores (go-ahead two-run blast in the sixth) and had just recorded the first out of the sixth when he was visited on the mound by Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez. After a short discussion, Matz departed. He said he dealt with blisters in 2013 and hopes to be ready for his next start, which should come next weekend in Atlanta.
"Just one pitch, the skin just kind of peeled off," said Matz, who had been out since July 5 with a partially torn lat muscle. "It should be good to go. I could have kept on pitching with it, but I think Terry made the right move shutting it down."
Sunday was Matz's third big-league start. He allowed two runs, four hits and two walks, struck out six and threw 81 pitches. The former Ward Melville star was in line to become the first Mets pitcher to win his first three appearances until Clippard gave up a massive home run into the upper deck in right by pinch hitter Justin Bour in the eighth.
The Mets loaded the bases in the ninth, but pinch hitter Travis d'Arnaud, batting for Kevin Plawecki, bounced into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Collins didn't keep d'Arnaud in the game at catcher, instead putting in No. 3 backstop Anthony Recker. Collins said he wanted d'Arnaud to rest so he could be "ready for [Monday]."
Clippard (2-1) started the bottom of the ninth by striking out Jeff Mathis, but the pitch bounced past Recker, who didn't move his body and just stabbed at the ball. Mathis reached first on the wild pitch.
Dee Gordon singled one out later to send pinch runner J.T. Realmuto to third. The Mets intentionally walked Christian Yelich to load the bases before Prado lined a sacrifice fly to left on the 12th pitch of his at-bat.
Prado, who beat the Mets with a walk-off double Friday night, fouled off six straight 3-and-2 pitches before hitting the line drive to left. Cespedes made a leaping catch, but his throw home was late.
Gordon, presumably thinking the ball was going to get over Cespedes' head, wandered off second and could have been doubled off, negating the run. But no one on the Mets noticed the odd sight of Gordon scampering back to second while the Marlins started their celebration.
It's not the first time the out-of-it Marlins have celebrated after beating the Mets in a meaningful September game. Anyone remember 2007? We figured you did. But the Mets can put all that talk away if they take care of business in Washington.
"It's going to be fun," d'Arnaud said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure everyone's looking forward to it. It's going to be a blast."