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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

After waving white flag, Mets didn’t completely surrender

Gavin Cecchini #2 of the New York Mets

Gavin Cecchini #2 of the New York Mets follows through on an eighth inning RBI double against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field on Saturday, Sep. 24, 2016 in the Queens Borough of New York City. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Yoenis Cespedes, standing in the dirt between second base and third, didn’t appear to know what was going on. The leftfielder was waiting for someone to bring his glove at the end of the fifth inning, but Terry Collins, from the top step of the dugout, frantically waved at Ces pedes to come on in.

For all practical purposes, with the Phillies up, 10-0, Saturday night’s game figured to be over. Collins, wisely, had finally decided to raise the white flag with the widespread substitutions usually reserved for the Grapefruit League, not late September, playoff-chase baseball. The Mets replaced half the lineup, and most importantly, allowed Asdrubal Cabrera — and his two aching knees — to take the rest of the night off.

So after Cabrera convinced Collins to start him, despite fouling a ball off the inside of his right knee Friday, the manager ended up no longer needing his services, anyway. Just like that, an all-important game was rendered inconsequential — or at least less significant than the health of the more banged-up Mets. The rah-rah stuff from pregame was inspiring at the time, but it faded some with Collins’ fifth-inning surrender, a sobering reversal from what the manager told us a few hours before first pitch. “It shows you the passion these guys have right now,” Collins said of Cabrera forcing his way into the lineup. “They’re all in.”

We don’t doubt it. But Saturday night’s early implosion, due mostly to Sean Gilmartin being miscast as an emergency starter, was disheartening with only seven games to go. Protecting Cabrera was one tiny flickering glimmer of positivity, and if you’d like to count the seven-run rally by the Flushing 51s — a late burst of entertainment for the Citi folks who stuck through the initial carnage — we’ll go along with that, too. Otherwise, the sum total was still a 10-8 loss.

Gilmartin, the ninth different starter used by the Mets in their past 36 games, was pressed into service only because Noah Syndergaard came down with strep throat. Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are pitching admirably as replacements, but there’s only so much Collins is to get from the likes of Gilmartin and Gabriel Ynoa.

And what the Mets got from those two was a total of 2 2⁄3 innings, a shockingly sparse contribution to a team desperately clinging to a wild-card berth. Collins earned praise for yanking Ynoa early Friday for a pinch hitter, then manipulating the bullpen for the next seven innings. But Friday night? Pulling Gilmartin had nothing to do with strategy. That was a matter of survival.

The Phillies raked Gilmartin for four hits and five runs, including a mammoth three-run homer by Maikel Franco, who launched it 20 rows past the M&M patio in leftfield. Franco’s blast switched on the boos, and the volume gradually increased until Gilmartin intentionally walked No. 8 hitter Jorge Alfaro only to have the pitcher, Alec Asher, deliver a two-run single.

Gilmartin’s replacement? That would be Rafael Montero, owner of a 7.36 ERA in his three starts — the reason why Gilmartin was chosen to start. That seemed like a gross error in judgment after Montero whiffed five of the next 11 Phillies he faced, allowing just one run. But the wheels came off soon enough, thanks to Darin Ruf’s three-run homer that put the Phillies up 10-0.

Never in franchise history had the Mets come back from double-digits. Their largest deficit erased was eight, way back in 1972, but they briefly flirted with history Saturday night. After Collins made his wholesale changes, the Flushing 51s roared back for seven runs, highlighted by RBIs from T.J. Rivera, Brandon Nimmo, Ty Kelly and Gavin Cecchini.

Even Jay Bruce chipped in with a second-deck homer in the ninth. But this was still a lost night, regardless of how the Mets eventually got there.

New York Sports