It was a line drawn in the sand with less than eight weeks left in the regular season; the starting line of the Mets' final stand. Once soaring high in the National League, well in control of a Wild Card spot, the Mets walked off the field Thursday three games out of that race. They trailed four different teams. Defending their NL East title has become an afterthought for a club at serious risk of missing October altogether.
"It's my responsibility," Collins said. "I write the lineup every day. I get it. I totally get it. I'm the one who decides who comes in to pitch. You know what? Hey, look, that's my job. And I'll stand up and be accountable. That's what I do. But I know one thing, there's got to be a passion to come and play. There's got to be a sense of, 'This what I do for a living. The people who pay to see me play are going to see my best effort.'"
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The manager continued with a warning:
"Starting tomorrow, we're back fresh," he said. "Starting tomorrow, we're going to get after it here. And those who don't want to get after it, I will find somebody else who does. Because in Las Vegas, there's a whole clubhouse filled of guys who want to sit in this room. And I'll find them."
Part of the Mets' problem is that their daily lineup is constructed largely of players straight out of that Triple-A clubhouse in Las Vegas. Of the eight starting position players in Thursday's loss, only two were in the Mets' Opening Day lineup. And one of those, Michael Conforto, recently spent time in Vegas due to poor performance.
How rapidly things have disintegrated for a Mets team that, as recently as July 26, stood seven games above .500. In the 16 days since, the Mets have lost five more players to the disabled list, including star hitter Yoenis Cespedes (on a day that he began with a round of golf). The Mets' once-dominant starting pitching ranks 21st in the Majors in ERA over that stretch -- in part because Noah Syndergaard, who took the loss Thursday, has hardly resembled the elite starter he was in April and May.
"This game will push your head under water and make you gasp for air," second baseman Neil Walker said.
Walker's teammate, Kelly Johnson, added that "I don't think it's effort" and "I don't think it's talent" plaguing the Mets, an assessment with which his manager disagreed. The clear implication of Collins' postgame rant was that he does not believe the Mets are playing up to their capabilities -- a notion that in one sense makes them lucky.
Despite everything -- despite the injuries, the issues, the criticisms and the losses -- the Mets remain three games out of a playoff spot. It's a dream that another week or two of bad play will shrivel. But it's a hope that, at this point, still very much exists.
"In the grand scheme of things, we're not out of this thing," Walker said. "We understand where we're at. We know what kind of baseball we have to play down the stretch to give ourselves a chance, and that's where we're at. We're certainly not a .500 team."