MIAMI -- On Friday evening, for the first time in recent memory, the Mets played meaningful baseball in South Florida. It was not the 31,007 noisy fans at Marlins Ballpark that made for the occasion, though their presence certainly did not hurt. Instead it was the fact that the Mets had a reputation to uphold.
Through their first 31 games, the Mets had established themselves as one of the surprise teams of the National League East, coming from behind on a daily basis to hang with the division's best. That same blueprint was in place on Friday, right down to the comeback, but the Mets ultimately could not capitalize in a 6-5 loss to the Marlins.
Frank Francisco blew his second save of the season after the Mets took another late lead in dramatic fashion, serving up Giancarlo Stanton's leadoff double and Emilio Bonifacio's one-out, game-tying RBI single in the ninth. Two batters later, Greg Dobbs drove in the winning run with a single, causing those 31,007 fans to scream and cheer and make entirely more noise than the Mets are accustomed to hearing.
"We're not the only team that plays hard," manager Terry Collins said. "Everybody does. We've got to put that game away."
It might not have been as painful for the Mets had they simply lost. They did not. On this night they lost only after coming from behind to pick up Johan Santana, taking their first lead on Mike Baxter's pinch-hit, two-run double in the eighth. Baxter's blow came three batters after a pinch-hit, game-tying double by Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and five batters after a leadoff double by David Wright.
But trouble brewed for the Mets in the bottom of the inning, when Ike Davis allowed Jose Reyes' ground ball to scoot under his glove for a one-out error. Omar Infante made Davis pay, doubling home Reyes to cut the margin to one.
Still, the Mets were ahead when Tim Byrdak came on in relief of Bobby Parnell and recorded a critical strikeout of pinch-hitter Logan Morrison.
As Collins noted, "We were sitting where we wanted to. They just came back in the ninth."
The decisive rally began when Francisco allowed a leadoff double to Stanton, who moved to third on Gaby Sanchez's flyout. The next batter, Bonifacio, drove home the tying run and then stole second base to put the winning run in scoring position.
Francisco struck out John Buck to quell the rally, but Dobbs turned on Francisco's first-pitch fastball to end the game, drawing the Marlins out of their dugout in a jubilant stream.
"You only can control where you throw the ball," Francisco said, sitting motionless in his clubhouse chair for several minutes after the game. "You cannot control the results. I thought I made a good pitch. I jammed him. But it ended up in the right spot.
"I don't feel bad. I feel bad because we lost, but personally, I know I was fighting out there. I left everything I had out there for my team, and we lost."
And they lost what would have been their sixth consecutive victory, a game that also would have allowed them to keep pace with the Nationals in the crowded NL East. The Mets are in third place in the division, two games behind the Nationals. In addition, it would have marked their fourth consecutive comeback victory, their fourth straight win over the Marlins and their league-leading 12th comeback in 32 games.
Instead they came to understand what it feels like on the other side of things.
"The Mets are a tough team," Dobbs said. "What they've been able to do for a little over the first month of the season, it's pretty impressive."
Mostly, the Mets have done it late in games, not necessarily knocking around opposing starters but often knocking them out of games. That was the case on Friday, when Mike Nickeas tagged Mark Buehrle with an RBI double in the seventh, helping to prevent Buehrle from finishing the inning.
Buehrle's final line was similar to that of Santana's, though the two left-handers went about things in different ways. If not for a first-inning rally that saw him give up an RBI single to Infante and a two-run homer to Austin Kearns, Santana's line would have been stellar. As it was, he pitched adequately, allowing just those three runs in six innings to keep the Mets in the game.
Santana struck out seven and, at 82 pitches, could have lasted longer, but Collins lifted him for a pinch-hitter with the Mets rallying in the seventh.
"We're certainly not used to somebody jumping on Johan like that," Collins said.
Nor are they used to losing late. The seventh, eighth and ninth innings typically belong to the Mets, who still lead the league in comebacks despite Friday's stunted bid.
"That's what we have done throughout the whole season, try to come back and score runs," Santana said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't finish it."