MIAMI — When the grieving Marlins played their first game since the death of Jose Fernandez, the Mets respectfully embraced their roles as mourners. For one night, the business of a tense wild-card race took a back seat to honoring a fallen player.
But a day later, the Mets returned to Marlins Park with a different mandate. In Tuesday night’s 12-1 victory over the Marlins, it was clear that baseball, trivial as it is, again took precedence.
Noah Syndergaard showed no ill effects from the strep throat that scratched his last start, an encouraging sign, because one way or another, the Mets’ postseason fate will be in his hands.
“I felt great, I felt strong out there,” said Syndergaard, who allowed one run in six innings, striking out eight. “I could locate my sinker to both sides of the plate whenever I needed to.”
The flamethrowing righty remains on track to start the regular-season finale against the Phillies on Sunday, where he will serve as a 6-6, 240-pound insurance policy should the wild-card race come down to the final day. Against the Marlins, he gave reassurance that he’ll be up to the task.
“I feel real confident that if we need that game, he’ll give us a good one,” Terry Collins said.
The Mets banged out 19 hits on a night when Lucas Duda knocked in three runs, a signal that he may be finding his rhythm after missing much of the year with a back injury. Curtis Granderson also had three RBIs.
Yoenis Cespedes struck the gaudy home run structure in left-centerfield with a towering two-run blast, his 31st homer. Jay Bruce showed signs of emerging from his thaw, clubbing a two-run shot, his sixth homer since joining the Mets.
The Mets (84-74) won for the fourth time in their last six games and moved closer to emerging from a three-team race with a wild-card spot. Their magic number is four. The Giants and Cardinals both won, so the Mets remained a half-game ahead of San Francisco and 1 1⁄2 ahead of St. Louis.
Only four games remain for the Mets to finish off what has been a stunning second-half turnaround, salvaging a season that appeared sunk when they dipped to 60-62 on Aug. 19, 5 1⁄2 games back of the wild card. They have gone 24-12 since, leapfrogging four teams to seize control of their fate.
Until Monday night, the Mets’ focus had been squarely on their situation. But after an emotional game, they found normalcy one day later.
“Hearts are still heavy, and they’re going to be the rest of the year, and probably for a long time after that, too,” Bruce said. “But we needed to win this game today, and we were able to do that.”
Injuries have remained among the Mets’ most formidable enemies, and they received another scare. Hours after announcing that a shoulder injury has ended Steven Matz’s season, Jose Reyes pulled up awkwardly as he rounded second. But Reyes remained in the game, and in the ninth he added his third hit. He had merely rolled an ankle.
By then, the Mets had seen precisely what they had hoped for from Syndergaard (14-9). Though he is in line to start in Philadelphia on Sunday, circumstance will dictate how he will be used. If the Mets have clinched, the finale would be a tune-up, with club sources saying he would likely be pulled after one inning. But if Sunday is a must-win, the Mets will entrust their fate to Syndergaard.
“I’m always looking forward to the big games, great atmosphere, a lot of pressure,” he said. “I feel like I thrive in those kinds of scenarios.”