In the suites high above the field, the Mets’ top executives worked the phones Saturday, enduring the excruciating process of fortifying a fraying roster before Monday afternoon’s looming trade deadline. But more and more, those efforts appear to be futile.
The Mets keep leaking oil, dropping a 7-2 decision to the Rockies Saturday night for their fourth straight loss. They are 7 1⁄2 games behind the Nationals — their largest deficit of the season — and 2 1⁄2 behind the Marlins and Cardinals for the final wild-card spot.
The latter is hardly insurmountable. But the way the Mets have staggered through this stretch, a season that once was loaded with promise appears to have reached a tipping point. The fans sensed it, too.
Before the game, they roared during a touching pregame ceremony to retire the No. 31 jersey of Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. But once the action began, those cheers turned into jeers that grew louder as the night became more grim. Slowly, the crowd thinned out, eventually greeting every inning with boos.
“Teams, just like players, go through slumps,” said Yoenis Cespedes, who was pulled from the game to protect his ailing quadriceps. “We’re obviously going through a slump right now. But I know that every guy that jumps out there, I know they’ll play hard, and they’ll keep working at it, and we’ll eventually come out of it.”
Righthander Bartolo Colon looked exactly like a 43-year-old pitching on three days’ rest. He was chased after allowing five runs and seven hits in five innings, including a two-run homer by rookie David Dahl.
The Mets’ deficient offense took a 2-0 lead on RBI singles by Wilmer Flores and Kelly Johnson. Remarkably, both came on hits with runners in scoring position, situations that typically have brought nothing more than collective failure.
But that momentum stalled while the Rockies piled on. They tagged Colon for three runs in the fourth, with the biggest blow Dahl’s second homer of the season.
The Rockies tacked on two runs in the fifth, this time when D.J. LeMahieu poked a single up the middle, just out of Colon’s reach. With that, the Rockies took a 5-2 lead that even Terry Collins acknowledged was virtually insurmountable for his offense.
When the Mets went down in order in the fifth, Collins double-switched Cespedes out of the game because he felt tightness in his right quadriceps. The team insisted the move was precautionary and that there is no threat of Cespedes going on the disabled list. But he’s been dealing with the quadriceps since the All-Star break.
It was yet another reminder of the Mets’ precarious state. Earlier in the day, the Mets placed third baseman Jose Reyes on the 15-day disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. The Mets expressed optimism that Reyes will return when eligible.
With this latest wave of gloom as the backdrop, Collins implored his team to “lighten up,” calling their recent struggles a mere “blip.” He spoke of playing with enthusiasm and energy, even though all around him, his roster continued to crumble.
Later, he was tossed for arguing with umpires after they ruled that a drive by Flores that originally was ruled a home run was an out because a fan reached over the fence. The umpires assumed it would be caught. “You can’t assume,” Flores said, still fuming about the call.
Earlier in the day, the Nationals traded for Pirates closer Mark Melancon, making themselves an even more formidable foe. Meanwhile, the second-place Marlins have emerged as a serious threat, especially now that they’ve acquired arms to address their pitching needs.
The Mets? They began the evening with a 34.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus, odds that went down despite their continuing efforts to find a spark to jolt their offense.
As the day rolled along, the Mets’ efforts to land Brewers catcher Jonathon Lucroy stalled. They pivoted toward Reds slugging outfielder Jay Bruce, though he’s an imperfect fit, given the complexion of the outfield.
The Mets hope to spark an offense that went into action with a league-worst .202 average with runners in scoring position. Despite what’s quickly becoming a tailspin, though, it makes little sense for the Mets to become sellers.
So the Mets find themselves hoping for a turnaround similar to the one they pulled off last season, when the trade deadline brought Cespedes and new hope that led to the World Series. It’s a resurgence that came only after hitting the nadir, a valley that Mets appear to be navigating again.