David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
WASHINGTON - Maybe Terry Collins' postgame mea culpa didn't go far enough to satisfy those still seething over Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Nationals, a stunning defeat that instantly should be considered the Mets' worst of the season, given the opponent and the NL East implications.
Collins stared into the camera and took the hit, primarily for not having his closer, Jeurys Familia, ready to bail out the rapidly sinking Bobby Parnell during the eighth inning.
"That's my fault," Collins said. "We let this one get away and there's nobody to blame but me."
We wouldn't go quite that far. With these Mets, as currently configured, no one person deserves that much heat for any particular loss. And yet, Collins did everything short of beg for forgiveness during the postgame media session. We're pretty sure there's even a number of you out there who may have preferred he resign on the spot.
But let's grab the reins for a minute. Getting Familia into that game, with the Mets still ahead, felt like an obvious call after the fact. Straight from the Managing 101 textbook. Collins said so himself.
The reality, however, presented something different. The inning fell apart so quickly that Familia had a window of a little more than three minutes to warm up in time to face Michael Taylor -- and that wasn't close to enough. With Familia hurrying in the bullpen, Taylor ripped the tying, two-run single off Parnell and then Danny Espinosa finished him with the game-winning double.
Familia never made it through the bullpen gate. To some degree, that's on Collins. He's guilty of having too much faith in Parnell, who didn't do his manager any favors by melting down when it mattered most. And with Parnell's career 5.50 ERA at Nats Park, Collins could have been on alert a bit earlier.
But the manager also was concerned about stretching Familia for another multi-inning save opportunity, and hoped to ride Parnell through the turbulence. Again, you'd like to see Collins rewarded for such faith, but it obviously was misplaced. Parnell is in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and can hardly be considered a shutdown reliever, despite allowing only one run in his previous 121/3 innings. We're not talking Dellin Betances here.
"It's totally on me," Parnell said.
There's a reason why some bullpens are considered special, such as the ones in the Bronx and Kansas City. Thinking the Mets could crash that exclusive club by stringing together the likes of Jenrry Mejia, Parnell and Familia was a bit premature. Effective, sure. But probably not worth sticking your neck out as far as Collins did in that eighth inning.
All of these games come down to choices, however, and the plain truth is the Mets don't have a roster that offers very many on a daily basis. Their bench is full of players hitting under .200. Or another, Michael Cuddyer, who is afraid of running first to third on a bruised left knee.
If you stuck around to watch the ninth inning, it was Eric Campbell on deck waiting to see if Kevin Plawecki reached base -- not Cuddyer, who's making $8.5 million basically just to travel with the Mets. Every day, Collins is asked about Cuddyer's availability, and every day he's forced to give some vague answer about what he's able to do because the front office won't come up with a better solution.
Let's face it, the Nationals weren't sweating a hobbled Cuddyer on the bench, and nobody else -- John Mayberry Jr. (.170), Danny Muno (.154) or Anthony Recker (.137) -- is anywhere close to a threat. That's not the reason Parnell coughed up a 3-1 lead, but it does point to the larger issue holding the Mets back: Not trying to fix what's wrong with them.
Now that we're in the second half, the stakes are getting bigger, and a gut punch of a loss like Wednesday's becomes more difficult to shake off. It's the kind of thing that a team looks back on when everyone is sitting home in October, wondering how it missed the playoffs by two games.
And if that's where these Mets wind up, the blame is going to extend far beyond the manager.