MIAMI -- Bartolo Colon stood immobile on the pitcher's mound, a foot or two from the rubber, gazing into the Marlins' dugout. He looked stoic as the Marlins celebrated something bigger and grander and more impactful than a pennant chase, the blistering first note of a 7-3 win over the Mets.
Inside, a man who has seen so much over a quarter-century in baseball was melting.
Moments earlier, Colon had given up perhaps the most impactful home run in Miami baseball history. Marlins Park was the unofficial site of a wake; the 26,933 on site were in mourning. Before entering the ballpark, thousands of them paused at a makeshift memorial for Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old star pitcher who died on Sunday morning in a boating accident.
Some signed a turquoise Fernandez jersey left on the pavement. Others set down flowers, untold bouquets of them, before shuffling into the ballpark and shedding a few more tears. Even the most hardened of them unspooled their emotions when Dee Gordon hit a leadoff home run against Colon, sobbing as he re-entered the dugout.
"I was crying, too," Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "When he was coming to home plate, tears were coming down his face. They were coming down mine, too. I'm sure the whole world felt that emotion in that moment, whether you were here, watching it on TV or anywhere."
This was billed as a pennant race, and yet for most of Monday evening, all vestiges of that had vanished. Gone were the pulsing dance beats that typically emanate from the Clevelander nightclub in left field, replaced by subtle organ music. During a pregame ceremony, a lone trumpeter wailed the long, drawn-out strains of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," sapping the song of its signature joy. The effect was chilling.
It was before that backdrop that the Mets played a game with significant postseason implications. Realizing how difficult this would be, manager Terry Collins gathered his players together in the visitors' clubhouse prior to the game, beseeching them to be respectful but professional. To a man, they were devastated that the Marlins lost Fernandez -- "He belonged to baseball," as Collins put it. But the Mets still hoped to win the game. They still needed to give every effort they could.
"One thing Jose Fernandez epitomized is that he loved the game," Collins said. "He respected the game. That's why he played it like he did. Therefore, in respect for him and his honor, we've got to go out there and respect the game, and go play it, and play it the right way, and play it with energy and play it with enthusiasm. There's no other way about it."
By the third inning, the Mets were losing by seven runs, a deficit too great for them to overcome. Collins, whose team remained a half-game in the lead for the top National League Wild Card spot, bemoaned a postseason opportunity, taking solace in the fact that the contending Cardinals lost, too. But like so many of his players, he had jumbled emotions. He wanted to win. He wanted to cry. He wanted to curl up in a ball and pretend this day never happened.
In the dugout, where the Mets had taped a Fernandez jersey above their bench in tribute, d'Arnaud and several other Mets lingered after the game's final out. They watched the Marlins gather in a ring around the pitcher's mound, praying together, until Gordon broke away. He thanked the Mets in a television interview for being "first class … for coming in and showing their gratitude to us and being there for us in a time of need."
"Baseball is a family," Gordon said. "That was just amazing for them to do. We didn't expect that."
The Mets did not know what to expect, nor did they anticipate their own conflicted emotions. In one corner of the postgame clubhouse, Collins insisted he was bent on winning the game. In others, some players admitted they felt at peace with the loss on a night when the word meant something terribly different.
"I feel like it was great for them that they were able to win," Colon said, speaking softly in Spanish. "You know what, though? I would have really enjoyed it if it was [Fernandez] who got the win over me."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.