For the Mets, the thrill of scoreboard-watching season has yielded to the inevitability of elimination-number season.
Other games around the majors still matter in the Mets’ context, sure, but only as technicalities pushing them to their apparent fate: another October highlighted by an important hiring search instead of a postseason run.
Their 5-3 loss to the Phillies on Saturday night brought them closer to that reality, as five-game losing streaks at this time of year tend to do. The Mets’ elimination numbers — the total number of losses by them and wins by the club holding the playoff spot they seek that would formally eliminate them from postseason contention — continue to dwindle.
In the NL East, their elimination number is 10. The Mets (72-77) are 5 1⁄2 games behind first-place Atlanta.
In the NL wild-card race, their elimination number is eight. The Mets are seven games behind the Cardinals.
At this point, even a winning season is improbable. The Mets need to go 10-3 to finish above .500. Even an 8-5 finish would leave them with a losing record.
"Playoffs are the main goal," Brandon Nimmo said. "And your record after that doesn’t really matter because you didn’t make the playoffs. But I’m still not going to go out every day and give it away. I’m still going to go out there and try to win every day. That’s just how I’m wired."
Looming large was a fifth-inning foul ball by Carlos Carrasco. That triggered vibrations that hurt his right thumb, so much so that he had trouble gripping the ball when he got back on the mound. Luis Rojas pulled him after six innings, two runs and 82 pitches.
"We were ready to send him back out there," Rojas said.
Carrasco added: "I was going out for the next inning, but I couldn’t hold the ball."
In the seventh inning that was supposed to belong to Carrasco, the Phillies (76-72) scored three runs against Brad Hand and Trevor May. The back-breaking blow was a two-out, two-run double by MVP candidate Bryce Harper on a 3-and-2 pitch. Two of the three runs were unearned because of Pete Alonso’s dropped-catch error on a pickoff play.
Phillies righthander Aaron Nola held the Mets to one run and four hits in 5 2⁄3 innings, striking out nine and walking one.
Nimmo went 2-for-4 with a triple and a home run.
Carrasco’s solid outing nonetheless marked a continuation of a trend that has marred his injury-abbreviated season: perplexing trouble in the first inning.
Jean Segura, the Phillies’ second batter of the game, crushed a line-drive homer to leftfield for a near-immediate lead. The only other run came on Segura’s second homer, so for Carrasco, perhaps this time it wasn’t so much a first-inning problem as a Segura problem.
"If you can take those two bad pitches right there, the two homers, I’m feeling really good," Carrasco said.
In the first inning this season, Carrasco has a 14.40 ERA (16 earned runs in 10 innings). In all other innings, he has a 2.60 ERA (10 earned runs in 34 2⁄3 innings).
"It’s one of those things where trying to feel out the game, it could be a whole number of things," pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said before the game. "It could be mental, it could be pitch mix, it could be just getting ambushed and they happened to click a few and it looks a lot worse than maybe it actually is. So try not to make something that’s not there.
"The first inning, it looks like he’s a little bit more of a thrower. And then after that, he starts hitting corners and mixing his stuff. It’s probably that simple. I wish there was a more complex, smarter answer than that."
Rojas and Carrasco were pleased with the first-inning improvement this time. "[Segura is] usually a guy that’s not really aggressive on the first pitch that he sees in the game. But he was aggressive," Rojas said. "I thought [Carrasco] pitched better overall in the first inning. It was just that one pitch."
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.