NEW YORK -- Once the Mets filtered back into their clubhouse following their third straight victory, a 5-2 win Wednesday over the Marlins, manager Terry Collins made an exception to his self-imposed rule. Despite swearing off team meetings after an impassioned speech to his players earlier in August, Collins stopped in briefly to tell the Mets how proud he was of them.
On the day they learned that Neil Walker is likely to join David Wright, Matt Harvey, Lucas Duda and too many others on their list of players with season-ending injuries, Collins watched the Mets continue their improbable run toward a National League Wild Card berth. Kelly Johnson hit a three-run double in the eighth inning to move them within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot, the closest the Mets have been to sniffing the postseason in over a month.
"I took 30 seconds and told them how proud I was of the fact that they've hung in there," Collins said. "Through all the midsummer injuries and all the different things that have happened, they've hung in there."
Stuck in a tie game in the eighth, Johnson hit his bases-loaded, two-out double off Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos to give the Mets the lead for good. Moments later, Mets closer Jeurys Familia nailed down his 44th save to set a single-season franchise record, capping the Mets' first winning month since April.
"It's nice to look up in September and we're still right in the middle of it," Johnson said. "It's there. You talk about the Wild Card, you've got half the teams still in the race there. Honestly, we've just got to win."
Wilmer Flores gave the Mets their first lead with a two-run homer off Jake Esch in the second inning, but the Marlins tied things in the sixth on a Christian Yelich solo shot. Esch, a last-minute emergency starter, held the Mets to two runs over 4 1/3 innings.
It was a strong enough outing, but Esch's counterpart, Bartolo Colon, pitched far deeper into the game, holding the Marlins to two runs in seven innings.
The Marlins, who have lost five in a row, finished August with a 10-18 record, and are now 67-66 overall.
"You look at the whole picture, it's a lot of different things," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We're just not doing enough to win. We weren't very good this month, and that's pretty much on all of us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Clearing the bases: Facing Ramos, Johnson worked the count full before lacing a sharp line drive into shallow right field, where it rolled toward the corner as the Mets circled the bases. Three runs scored on the play, giving the Mets a three-run cushion to hand to Familia.
"I made two pitches way out of the zone," Ramos said. "He swung at a pitch out of the zone and kind of got me back in the count. I threw a slider, I was trying to make it around the zone and he took advantage of it. He did what he was supposed to do with that in a big situation."
Yelich showcasing power: For years, the Marlins have said Yelich's power would emerge. It certainly has shown up this series, and this month. Yelich's opposite-field home run off Colon in the sixth inning pulled Miami even at 2. It was his second home run in as many days, both with him hitting in the cleanup spot for the first time in his career. Yelich capped August with seven home runs and 22 RBIs.
Early lead: Mostly, Collins said, he included Flores in Wednesday's lineup because of his recent swings against right-handed pitchers -- long an issue for Flores. The infielder responded immediately, clubbing an Esch slider over the left-field fence for a two-run homer in the second inning. That gave the Mets a 2-1 lead.
"Righty, lefty, I don't really care who's out there," Flores said. "I have the same approach. Whenever you're feeling good, you hit righties, lefties, it doesn't matter. I feel good against anybody."
Esch's MLB debut: On short notice, the Marlins called Esch in for an emergency start after scratching David Phelps due to a left oblique strain. Esch got 19 tickets to the game for his family and friends, many traveling from their homes in Minnesota. In the fourth inning, with Miami trailing, 2-1, he worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam. It was a big moment because the Mets could have widened their lead. But he got Colon to bounce into a 5-2-3 double play. The inning ended when Jose Reyes bounced to second.
"We've thrown the ball pretty well," Mattingly said. "Even tonight, Jacob flies in today, gives us a good outing, hangs a breaking ball to Flores. Other than that, he was pretty good." More >
"I just didn't make the pitches when they needed to be made, for whatever reason. It's kind of one of those outings where I couldn't make a pitch. I was trying to do the best with what I had out there." -- Ramos, who recently came off the disabled list with a fractured left third finger
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Familia already owned a share of the Mets' single-season saves record, racking up 43 last season to match Armando Benitez's 2001 total. He now owns sole possession of the Mets' franchise mark with 44 saves. His 87 saves since the start last season are second in the big leagues behind only Washington's Mark Melancon. More >
OZUNA INJURES WRIST
Injuries continue to pile up for the Marlins. In the third inning, center fielder Marcell Ozuna rolled his left wrist after making a diving catch on Flores' sinking line drive. Shaken up on the play, Ozuna walked off the field slowly, and the next inning he was replaced by Jeff Francoeur, who moved to right field, with Ichiro Suzuki going from right to center.
The team announced he has a sore left wrist, and after X-rays came back negative, he was listed as day to day. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: The Marlins close out their four-game set on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field. Jose Urena (2-5, 5.83 ERA) will be making his seventh start. The right-hander opened the season in the bullpen, making 16 relief appearances.
Mets:Jacob deGrom's skipped turn in the rotation actually wound up being a three-day delay. deGrom will return to the mound for the series finale against the Marlins, trying to rebound from the consecutive losses that prompted the Mets to push back his start.