The clubhouse door closed behind Terry Collins, and standing in the middle of the Mets was a manager on fire. His team in flames, its first-half chemistry blown into scattered fragments, Collins was furious after the Mets went belly-up again Wednesday, this time, 5-2, to the Nationals at Citi Field.
That made it six straight losses, and a staggering 12 in 13 games. But the intervention by the manager wasn't just about the losing. For the second time in nine days, Collins was upset by one Met blaming another, a trend that -- left untreated -- can infect and ultimately kill an entire clubhouse.
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Back on July 17, it was an offhand comment by Pedro Beato, who casually mentioned how Josh Thole failed to block a wild-pitch curveball that allowed the Nationals to score the winning run. Collins called a meeting the next afternoon.
Despite all that, Collins felt compelled to deliver the same lecture again Wednesday -- in a much sterner tone -- because Tim Byrdak stared down Thole over a disputed fastball that Adam LaRoche smacked for a two-run homer that nearly caromed off the Shea Bridge in the seventh inning.
That doubled the Mets' deficit and turned teammates against one another, however briefly. Collins, recognizing the danger of what was going on, put a stop to it during the postgame meeting.
"It was pretty bad," one Met said. "He was angry and had a right to be."
More than 20 minutes later, the clubhouse still seemed to be feeling the aftershocks. Players dressed and packed in silence for the three-city, 11-game West Coast trip. The Mets have had plenty of gut-wrenching losses this season, but none carved up the landscape like what happened Wednesday.
"I don't think anything can get any worse than this right now," Thole said. "I can't wait to get out of here."
The need to seek refuge away from Citi Field, where the Mets had a winless homestand of six or more games for only the eighth time in franchise history, was a natural reaction. But merely swapping the scenery is no guarantee of success for the Mets if their performance does not improve -- and quickly.
The Mets' 1-11 record since the All-Star break is the worst since the 1962 club opened the second half 1-14 on the way to a record 120 losses. That's not the kind of company any team wants to keep and Collins insisted -- no, demanded -- that it will change starting Thursday night, which just happens to be when Matt Harvey makes his major-league debut against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
"You're going to see a different team here in the next 10 days to two weeks," Collins said. "We're going to do the things that got us here. Once in a while, when things go bad, you start making excuses, and I don't deal with excuses.
"I deal with accountability. I deal with standing up and being a man -- standing up and being a professional baseball player. And playing the game right. I know when times get tough, it's human nature to forget to look in the mirror once in a while."
That message got through. It was a contrite Byrdak who spoke to the media, sitting in his locker chair and staring up at reporters. The fastball he threw to LaRoche was called from the bench by pitching coach Dan Warthen -- not Thole, who refused to let Byrdak shake it off.
Thole said he was "caught off guard" by Byrdak's animated display on the mound. Byrdak made sure later to apologize.
"There's frustration all the way around this clubhouse," Byrdak said. "From what we did in the first half to come out in the second half and for this to happen, there's a lot of guys that are ---- . Everybody's ----. For me, I made a mistake on the mound. It never should have happened."
As for the game, Jeremy Hefner (1-4) did an admirable job as the fill-in for Johan Santana. He allowed back-to-back solo homers by Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa in the second, but otherwise just an unearned run in six innings. The Mets just couldn't rattle Stephen Strasburg (11-4), who gave up a homer to Ike Davis leading off the second but whiffed 11 over seven innings.
While there's no shame in losing to an elite pitcher like Strasburg, there's no excuse for behaving as the Mets have during this spiraling trend.
"It's no fun to go through this, especially in New York," David Wright said. "We understand that it's a fishbowl and that we're going to have to stick together to get this thing turned around."