MIAMI — Pitching for the first time in more than a week Friday night, Edwin Diaz entered in the late innings of a close game and did what he has done all season: easily dominate.
But this time it didn’t matter. That was the bottom of the eighth and the Mets already trailed by three runs. They lost to the Marlins, 6-3, after they failed to convert on their best scoring chances and the bullpen B squad failed to hold down Miami, with manager Buck Showalter’s aggressiveness early and lack of it late failing to yield a win.
The loss combined with Atlanta’s win over Seattle meant the Mets fell into second place — by a half-game — in the NL East. They had led the division for 150 consecutive days. The last time they weren’t at the top: April 11.
The Mets (87-52) have lost four of six games to teams significantly worse than them.
“If we were doing that early in the year, people would’ve panicked,” Francisco Lindor said. “If we would’ve done it in the middle of the year, people would’ve panicked. We do it at the end of the year, people still panic. You just gotta find ways to win more games.”
In a winnable game and with a rested bullpen, Showalter at first was proactive in his bullpen management, pulling David Peterson after 3 2⁄3 innings (three runs). Peterson was teetering, the Marlins were rallying and the Mets were at risk of letting them blow it open in the fourth inning.
For a while, that worked. Tommy Hunter and Mychal Givens got the Mets into the eighth inning of a one-run game. But instead of chasing a win — using a high-leverage reliever such as Diaz or Adam Ottavino in the hopes that the Mets would come back in the ninth — Showalter turned to lefthander Joely Rodriguez.
Rodriguez gave up a two-run homer by Charles Leblanc, boosting Miami’s lead to three runs. Then he walked two batters. Only then did Showalter turn to Diaz, who had not appeared in a game since Sept. 1.
“We were hoping that Joely could get a couple of outs,” Showalter said.
Diaz didn’t begin the inning because Showalter wanted him to pitch a theoretical bottom of the ninth. Ottavino warmed up earlier, so they didn’t want him to do so again. And Seth Lugo, who pitched two innings Wednesday, needed another day of rest “in a perfect world,” Showalter said.
A similar scenario unfolded Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Adonis Medina turned a one-run game into a sure loss in the bottom of the eighth. Showalter said then that there would come a time in the season that a better reliever would pitch in that spot.
Friday turned out not to be that time.
“I understand what your thinking is,” Showalter said. “I was thinking the same thing. Joely’s been throwing the ball well. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
The Mets got within a run at multiple points, but their best scoring opportunities ended suddenly.
After three consecutive well-struck hits by the Mets, Jeff McNeil grounded into an inning-ending double play in the third. Lindor, batting with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, also grounded into a double play.
“It was a big moment for both sides, probably the turning point of the game, and he executed and I didn’t come through,” Lindor said. “That’s on me.”
The Mets got to Marlins righthander Edward Cabrera for three runs in 5 2⁄3 innings. Cabrera gave up Pete Alonso’s 33rd homer, a two-run shot.
“It’s that time of year. A lot of us kind of hit the wall,” Lindor said. “We gotta find ways to break through the wall and do it together. That’s what good teams do, and I’m sure we’re going to do it.”