NEW YORK -- For the umpteenth time in the last umpteen days, Mets manager Terry Collins opened his Wednesday afternoon at the ballpark with a barrage of questions about the playoffs.
"We are not talking about the postseason again," Collins said, all but throwing his palms to the sky before his team went out and lost, 6-0, to the Marlins at Citi Field to shrink their National League East lead to 7 1/2 games. "We're talking about getting through this season."
Collins continued: "It's only human nature to have people look ahead. That's what [the media's] job is, they look at the big picture. We have made it a point to say we're worried about tonight."
And the next night and the next night, until the clinch happens.
The Mets, to be clear, are still in fine shape with 16 games to go: up 7 1/2 on the Nationals, who only recently have begun to show signs of life. Collins' club still faces a weak schedule the rest of the way and is still a heavy, heavy favorite to win the NL East.
But recently, cracks have formed. Wednesday, it was Bartolo Colon's turn to scuffle, giving up three runs -- two of them on home runs -- over 5 2/3 innings. The Mets, by contrast, mustered only three hits off a quartet of Marlins pitchers, putting just two runners in scoring position all night.
"We had a long road trip, and an emotional road trip, but that's no excuse for going out there and losing games," said third baseman David Wright, who collected two of the Mets' hits, but stranded a pair during their only extended rally in the eighth. "We have to find ways to win games down the stretch. But there are going to be days where you get outplayed. And today we got outplayed in every area of the game."
The emotion of building a 9 1/2-game NL East lead, Collins agreed, may finally have caught up to the Mets. And in that sense, the manager welcomes all the hoopla and regalia of this weekend's Subway Series at Citi Field, following an off-day Thursday. Normally a distraction for players who simply want to focus on the task at hand, this Subway Series -- the first September edition -- should bring energy back to the Mets after two listless games.
It won't take many more wins for them to clinch the division and, finally, to begin discussing playoff plans. But the Mets realize they can't cover all that ground in one night.
"We had such an emotional high going coming out of Atlanta, I think you're seeing a little bit of a drainage of the system," Collins said. "If there is a day off coming, I think it's coming at the right time. It'll be pretty exciting starting Friday, and we need to pick the energy up."