NEW YORK -- The Mets' pursuit of their first National League East crown since 2006 took a detour Tuesday night, as Jacob deGrom struggled in their 9-3 loss to the Marlins at Citi Field. Combined with the Nationals' win over the Phillies, the loss shaved New York's NL East margin to 8 1/2 games with 17 to play, keeping them squarely positioned as the NL's No. 3 seed.
Sharp early, deGrom coughed up six runs in the fourth and fifth innings, allowing eight of his 10 hits during those rallies. He fell to 1-2 with a 6.41 ERA over his past five starts, including a late-August game in Philadelphia in which he was ill.
"It's like everything: You create your own expectations and everybody else's expectations," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If you're not real good, nobody expects anything out of you and you don't expect anything out of yourself, to be honest. If you're real good, people expect a lot. And when you don't live up to that you can get ticked off."
Whether it was fatigue or something else that afflicted deGrom -- who set a new career high with 181 innings -- on this night, the Marlins had little trouble taking advantage. Christian Yelich and Justin Bour each collected multiple hits and RBIs to back New Rochelle, N.Y., native Tom Koehler on the mound.
"I was able to minimize the damage," said Koehler (10-13), who worked out of a first-inning jam. "In those [first-inning] situations, when you only give up one, you kind of realize you've got to lock it in now. You gave them a chance there, and you were able to fight out of it. It was a big moment in the game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Fish fry deGrom: After going down quietly in the first through third innings, the Marlins attacked deGrom with a total of eight hits -- four of them driving home runs -- and two sacrifice flies in the fourth and fifth. Yelich and Bour each recorded multiple hits during the sequence, and Marcell Ozuna also had an RBI knock. It marked the second time in five outings that deGrom, once a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate, allowed six-plus runs in a start.
"I felt fine early in the game," deGrom said. "And then in those innings, I just was leaving balls up and over the middle of the plate." More >
Koehler's key double: Hits have been hard to come by for Koehler, who came into the night batting .119 (5-for-42) on the season and .083 (11-for-132) in his career. But in the fifth, the Marlins' right-hander did the unexpected, doubling to right-center off one of the top right-handers in the National League. Koehler's first career double set the stage for Miami's three-run inning, which broke open a 6-1 lead.
"With this team, if you give them a crack, they've shown this year they can kick the door in," Miami manager Dan Jennings said. "Dunn comes in. That's about as dominating as [you can see]. To go in there and get three punchouts through the middle of that lineup was huge."
Wright stays hot:David Wright, who doubled home the go-ahead run in Monday's win over the Marlins, gave the Mets an early lead with an opposite-field double off Koehler that nearly cleared the right-field wall for a homer. It wound up being the only run that Koehler would allow.
"If you're going to eventually become a good team that is going to be in the race, you have to play well against the best teams. For us to grow to where we want to be, you need to know you can play with these guys. We've played very well against them of late. We have a chance to win the season tomorrow. I'm proud of these guys. It would have been easy to lie down." -- Jennings, on the Marlins, who have beaten the Mets three of five times this month
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Dee Gordon, who had three singles and a two-run homer, boosted his MLB-leading three-plus hit game total to 22. More >
Purpose pitch or one that got away? Some drama built in the first when Koehler struck Cespedes on the hip with a fastball. Cespedes gave the Miami starter a glare on his way to first base. Nothing further materialized until the seventh, when Koehler came to the plate in a sacrifice bunt situation. Reliever Erik Goeddel threw a pitch that sailed behind the back of Koehler as he squared to bunt. Home-plate umpire Dale Scott issued warnings to both benches.
"I was trying to pitch him inside," Koehler said. "I've been throwing curveballs down in the zone, he's hit them hard. I've thrown him fastballs away, he's hit them hard. So, I was trying to go in for a strike or for effect. It got away a little bit."
Said Collins: "We'll answer it in our own due time." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: The Marlins face the Mets for the final time this season Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Rookie lefty Adam Conley (3-1, 4.93) will make his eighth start and 12th appearance. He's thrown 2 1/3 innings of relief against New York this year.
Mets:Bartolo Colon, whose hot September has him back in the Mets' playoff rotation conversation, will start their series finale Wednesday against the Marlins. Over his past five outings, including one relief appearance, Colon is 4-0 with a 0.57 ERA.