MIAMI — The late nights, the marathon games, the heavy arms in the bullpen, it all caught up to the Mets. At the end of this slog, their greatest adversary was road weariness.
Yet when they reached that inevitable point of exhaustion in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Marlins, the Mets showed a capacity to fight through fatigue. It came too late, and it didn’t erase the sting of three straight wrenching defeats, the last on rookie J.T. Riddle’s walk-off two-run homer against Addison Reed in the bottom of the ninth.
But after the game, manager Terry Collins addressed his team in the clubhouse. Soon after that, music filled the space, a noticeable break from protocol after a loss.
“This is a good team, this is a good baseball team,” Collins said. “We have issues like everybody else, but we’re trying to mesh a pitching staff that we’ve got to be careful with and a bullpen we’ve got to be careful with. We’re going to be OK.”
On one level, the music and the words were counterintuitive. The Mets did not record their first hit until Neil Walker singled with two outs in the eighth. But the Mets sprang to life in the ninth, and pinch hitter Asdrubal Cabrera laced a two-out, two-run single up the middle against reliever David Phelps to tie it at 2.
Travis d’Arnaud singled with one out, but Jose Reyes struck out, leaving the Marlins an out away from the victory. Wilmer Flores then singled to right and hustled to second when Giancarlo Stanton had trouble fielding the ball. It was Flores’ first hit in 18 at-bats against righthanders this season.
Cabrera made the most of that timing, and he raised his right arm in the air as pinch runner Juan Lagares came home with the tying run.
One day after Collins drew scrutiny for his bullpen management, he went against the book, summoning his closer for the ninth inning in a tie game on the road. It was a move that put the Mets’ fate in the hands of their best reliever, and perhaps their freshest. Reed hadn’t pitched in two days, a vacation compared with the rest of the bullpen.
His defense temporarily bailed him out, as for the second time in four innings, the Mets cut down a runner at the plate on a double, this one the potential game-winner.
With Marcell Ozuna on first, Miguel Rojas hit a drive to left that one-hopped the wall. Yoenis Cespedes barehanded the rebound and fired to cutoff man Cabrera, who turned and zipped a missile of his own to the plate.
“It hit me right in the chest,” said d’Arnaud, who made the tag while deftly giving Ozuna a lane to the plate, allowing the play to stand up to the scrutiny of a review. “It made it easy for me to make the tag.”
In the dugout, Collins thought it was the break the Mets needed. The Mets had tied it, then made a defensive play to stay alive. But madness governed the last four days here, which included the Mets’ 16-inning win and two additional one-run games that the Marlins won in their final at-bat. Yesterday’s ninth inning provided an appropriate snapshot. Riddle’s two-run shot off Reed came two pitches after the perfect relay.
Matt Harvey had pitched six innings, allowing two runs, one earned. The Mets responded by sleepwalking through much of their 12th game in 12 days, nearly letting themselves become the 12th team ever to be victimized by a combined no-hitter.
“Certainly early on in the season, when you’re not used to playing seven, eight, nine, 10 games in a row, that’s something you have to really push through,” said Walker, who had a single and three walks.
The Mets (7-6) finished their seven-game road trip 4-3. But to Collins, the challenge warranted perspective.
“I just told the guys, ‘We came on this road trip .500 and we’re going home above .500,’ ” he said. “We’ve got to take that as a positive. Should we have won more? Maybe. But we didn’t. You can’t worry about that now.”