NEW YORK -- Time and again this season, the Mets have shrugged off injuries to their starting pitchers, playing their most meaningful string of September games without the majority of their Opening Day rotation. But the loss of Noah Syndergaard proved too much even for them to overcome.
While Syndergaard spent his Saturday recuperating from a case of strep throat, spot starter Sean Gilmartin allowed five runs to a Phillies club that has shown plenty of life this weekend. Maikel Franco stayed hot with a three-run homer, while Darin Ruf added his second long ball in as many days in a 10-8 win over the Mets at Citi Field.
The Nationals clinched the National League East title with a victory over the Pirates, but the Mets are still very much alive in the Wild Card race, where they are tied with the Giants atop the standings. The Mets still technically hold the top spot by virtue of a 4-3 edge in the season series, while the Cardinals sit just a half-game back of both clubs.
Trailing by double-digits at one point, the Mets battled back to move within three runs in the eighth, relying heavily on seldom-used bench players. But Hector Neris and Michael Mariot held on to preserve Philadelphia's fifth win in its last eight games.
"I absolutely tip my hat to the job those young kids did tonight," Mets manager Terry Collins said of the near-comeback. "They were running the bases like their hair was on fire. Tremendous comeback. I'm real proud of them."
Phillies starter Alec Asher allowed four unearned runs in five innings to improve to 2-0 since his September callup.
"It's bittersweet," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about the agonizing way his club won the game. "I'm talking myself into being happy, let's put it that way. These guys are relentless. This Mets team is relentless. They just keep coming at you."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Franco's big weekend: Franco hit a three-run homer in the first inning to hand the Phillies a 3-0 lead. They piled on from there with Ruf hitting a three-run shot in the fourth to make it 10-0. It was Franco's third homer in as many nights against the Mets, giving him a team-high 25. It was Ruf's second homer in as many nights, giving him two on the year. More >
"I was talking with Freddy [Galvis] and Whitey [Andres Blanco] the first day when I came in," Franco said. "I just told them, it's something you can't control sometimes. Now I'm seeing the ball really good and I'm just putting good contact on the ball, and the ball flies. That's what it is. Just try to go out there, see a good pitch to hit and put good contact on it."
Brief and ineffective: It wasn't only Franco and Ruf who did damage; five of the first six Phillies to face Gilmartin scored. After Gilmartin intentionally walked Jorge Alfaro to bring up the pitcher's spot with two out, Asher chased him with a two-run single. Gilmartin, who came into the game hoping to pitch into the middle innings, recorded just two outs on 39 pitches.
"It's really not that hard," Gilmartin said of making a spot start on little notice. "It's what my job is to do. I've got to be ready for it. I had no issue. I was ready to go out there and do my job. I wasn't able to. That's on me."
Mariot closes it: Mackanin said Friday that closer Jeanmar Gomez would not close in the next couple of save situations because he has struggled for the past month, posting an 11.20 ERA in 17 appearances. Mackanin said he hoped to squeeze two innings out of Neris, but he threw 38 pitches in the eighth. Enter Mariot, who earned his first career save Tuesday against the White Sox. After he allowed a pinch-hit homer to Jay Bruce, he walked the next two batters he faced to put the potential winning run at the plate with one out. But Mariot got Lucas Duda to pop out and Travis d'Arnaud to ground out to end the game.
"That was just a weird game," Mariot said. "I was just trying to stay composed and throw strikes. Even though I walked the two guys, I don't know how many balls they fouled off. I was still throwing strikes at the time, just missed four of them. I just told myself to keep throwing strikes and good things will happen."
Super subs: Trailing by double-digits after four innings, the Mets opted to give regulars Asdrubal Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes and Curtis Granderson some much-needed rest. Their replacements took advantage, parlaying two Phillies errors into a four-run fifth. An inning later, Gavin Cecchini and T.J. Rivera knocked in runs to cut the deficit to four. Cecchini then narrowly missed a three-run homer in the eighth inning, settling for an RBI double to make it a three-run game. That was as close as the Mets would get. More >
"I knew I hit it really, really well, but I didn't think that I had enough air under it," Cecchini said of his double. "It was pretty much a line drive and it hit off the top of the wall. I was busting it out of the box, just in case."
"We got too far behind. They were going to clinch it sooner or later. I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about where we sit in the Wild Card right now. That's our focus." -- Collins, on the Nationals clinching the NL East title
"We put some momentum on their side [in the fifth] and there were all those lefties lined up. I wanted to change the momentum. So I figured I'd have Joely [Rodriguez] face all those lefties and have a shutdown inning." -- Mackanin, on why he pulled Asher after 76 pitches in five innings. Mackanin has been talking recently on how he wants his starting pitchers to pitch deeper into games
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Mets used 23 pitchers over the series' first three games, setting a franchise record for any three consecutive games in their history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Mets used 22 pitchers over a three-game stretch in 2011.
Neris recorded his 100th strikeout in the eighth inning, making him just the fourth reliever in franchise history to record 100 K's in a season. Jake Diekman last accomplished the feat in 2014. Dick Selman (153 in 1970) and Al Holland (100 in '83) are the others.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW Freddy Galvis singled to lead off the third inning and was initially ruled safe trying to steal second base. But the Mets successfully challenged the play, correctly believing Kelly Johnson's tag hit Galvis before he touched the bag. All told, the replay took two minutes and 50 seconds.
WHAT'S NEXT Phillies: Right-hander Jake Thompson (3-5, 5.62 ERA) will get the ball for the series finale on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field. After getting hit hard in his first four big league starts, Thompson has a 2.97 ERA in his last five outings.
Mets: Rookie Robert Gsellman (2-2, 3.13) will look to become the first Mets starter in three games to pitch into the third inning when he faces the Phillies on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET. Gsellman is winless in his last three starts, despite a 3.38 ERA over that stretch.