MIAMI -- Days shy of October, Mets manager Terry Collins' head is swimming with the possibilities of postseason play. There are tiebreakers to consider, play-in games and National League Wild Card scenarios running every which way. There are thoughts of pitchers on short and extra rest, tune-up starts and must-win games. There are planes, trains and buses, ready to whisk the Mets in umpteen different directions.
But first, the Mets must qualify for such madness. They took another step in that direction on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over Miami, taking two of three at Marlins Park to reduce their magic number to two.
Seth Lugo pitched 5 1/3 innings to extend his personal winning streak to five, while James Loney and Jay Bruce backed him with two-run homers.
The Giants and Cardinals are left chasing the Mets, who remain in a tight race with those two teams. Wednesday's win moved the Mets 1 1/2 games ahead of the Giants for the best record among Wild Card contenders and 2 1/2 in front of the pursuing Cardinals. San Francisco and St. Louis are both scheduled to play on Thursday, while the Mets are idle. They can clinch a postseason berth as soon as Friday in Philadelphia.
"If we win, we'll be fine," Bruce said. "We can't worry about what everyone else is doing or anything like that. It's just, play baseball. And we've been doing a good job of it. Everybody's been doing their part."
The loss officially eliminated the Marlins from postseason contention. Entering the night, they needed to win their remaining games and have the Giants lose all of theirs just to force a Wild Card tiebreaker. A procession was held for the late Jose Fernandez outside of Marlins Park before the game.
"It's tough to have a ton of emotion out there," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after his team finished its home schedule at 40-40. "I know guys are trying. This is one of those games, you owe it to San Francisco and St. Louis to put your best effort forward. I think our guys did the best they possibly could."
Martin Prado gave the Marlins an early lead with a two-run homer off Lugo in the first inning, but starting pitcher Jose Urena could not hold it. After Jeurys Familia pitched a perfect ninth inning for his franchise-record 50th save, the Mets finished the season 12-7 against the Marlins, who are locked into third place in the NL East.
"Physically, everybody was worn out," Prado said. "Everybody was exhausted. Thinking of all the stuff we went through the last three or four days. The beauty is we've been together all these days. It's not like we didn't get together before the tragedy, but this made us even tighter."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Catching fire: Bruce's longtime reputation for streakiness did not do much to calm folks in Flushing, who booed the slumping outfielder throughout the Mets' last homestand. But the team's primary non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition has turned things around on the road, homering for the third time in five games. His two-run shot off Urena in the fifth inning gave the Mets a 5-2 lead.
"Since the day that I got here, that's all I wanted to do," Bruce said of his recent production. "I didn't want to be anyone that I wasn't. I just wanted to come in here and play good baseball and be a professional and contribute to the team. Lately, I've been able to do that more, and that's very, very important to me. That's the only thing that's important to me."
Prado connects early: At a time of grieving, the Marlins turned to their leader for a lift. And Prado, like he has done all year, delivered. The veteran third baseman connected on a two-run homer in first inning that gave Miami a short-lived lead. Prado now has eight home runs, and his 75 RBIs match Marcell Ozuna for second most on the Marlins behind Christian Yelich's 95. According to Statcast™, Prado's homer was projected to land 404 feet from home plate with an exit velocity of 102 mph.
"It's another one of those games we've talked about, score one or two in the first or the second, and then we go to sleep," Mattingly said. "Today, they get right back. … You're trying to score, but you're not getting a lot going on."
Brief but effective: Collins did not give Lugo much rope, pulling the rookie after he allowed a one-out single in the sixth, on his 82nd pitch. But the Mets' bullpen held, handing Lugo his fifth consecutive victory. He allowed nothing more than Prado's homer in the first, retiring seven straight Marlins before that sixth-inning single.
Squandered seventh: Dee Gordon tried to make something happen in the seventh inning for Miami in a 5-2 game. The speedster singled with one out off Fernando Salas before stealing second and dashing to third on catcher Rene Rivera's throwing error with one out. But the Marlins were unable to cash in on the error, as Salas struck out Ozuna and retired Prado on a grounder to first.
"In this situation, I think it's hard to make up emotion," Mattingly said. "You can kind of try to fool yourself and say that. You try, it's just hard. It's like it's just not coming out. To me, it's just a rough game to play, to be honest."
"We have a special group of guys. They are very respectful. They're respectful of the game. They're respectful people. We made as much a tribute to Jose as we could without going overboard with it. We had games to play that were very meaningful for us. I thought the guys, after Monday night, realized that we had to go out and play." -- Collins, on the Mets' role in honoring Fernandez More >
"It stinks that something like this has to happen to let people know there's more important things than being good at baseball, fame, money, being powerful. I just feel sorry for his mother and his family. They lost one of the biggest reasons why they came to America. Today was a hard day to be part of and watch him outside the field. Hoping he's in a better place now." -- Prado More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Familia's 50th save not only extended his franchise record, but it also made him the first Dominican-born pitcher to reach that milestone. He had been tied with Jose Valverde (2011) and Francisco Cordero (2004) with 49 saves. Familia is now one of 13 big league relievers to save 50 in a season. More >
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Originally in the starting lineup, Mets first baseman Lucas Duda was a late scratch due to general soreness. That resulted in a start for Loney, who tied the game with his two-run homer in the second inning. The Mets didn't trail again.
Collins classified Duda's condition as general "body stiffness." The Mets expect him to be available following Thursday's off-day.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: Following an off-day on Thursday, the Mets will head to Citizens Bank Park for their final series of the year against the Phillies. Robert Gsellman is currently scheduled to start Friday's opener for the Mets, though the team is considering using Bartolo Colon on short rest in his place. That would line Colon up to start the NL Wild Card Game, if Noah Syndergaard is unavailable. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Marlins: Miami will spend its off-day on Thursday attending the funeral of Jose Fernandez in Miami. Following the services, the Marlins will travel to Washington D.C., where they will face the Nationals at 7:05 p.m. ET on Friday at Nationals Park. Andrew Cashner (5-11, 5.13 EAR) makes his final start of the season. The Nationals have yet to announce their starter.