Sunday September 28th, 2008

NEW YORK -- Most of the crowd of 56,059 that packed Shea Stadium for what turned out to be the final time were still standing and cheering over an hour after the game, and the Mets' season, came to a disappointing and all-too familiar end. Of course, they weren't mourning the loss by the 2008 Mets, but celebrating the players who had starred at Shea over the course of its 45 seasons.

At least they had something to celebrate on Sunday.

Here are some final thoughts from Shea after the Mets' 4-2 loss to the Marlins, while wondering if the Mets should have tried to coax Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden into a real uniform for some pitching help on Sunday evening.

1. The bullpen did it, again This one may not have had the Bruckheimer-type explosions that marked the seemingly countless bullpen failures that doomed the Mets bullpen, but it did just as much damage. Asked to protect a 2-2 game in the seventh inning and the season hanging in the balance, Scott Schoeneweis used just two pitches to blow it, surrendering a home run to pinch-hitter Wes Helms. Luis Ayala replaced him and promptly yielded a homer to Dan Uggla, driving the stake into the Mets' heart once and for all.

After the game, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran said, "We need to look forward to next year and address our weakness." It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Beltran had pinpointed the one area that is most responsible for the premature end to the Mets' season.

2. The offense vanished The Mets managed just two runs, both coming on Beltran's home run in the sixth, and only four hits, leaving them with weekend totals of five runs and 17 hits in 26 innings. For all the thunder in the middle of their order, the Mets were done in by the disappearing act from Jose Reyes, who went just 2-for-13 this weekend, and a blackhole at the bottom of the order. "We needed one or two guys to step up and lighten that load [on he bullpen]," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. "I really felt we'd come out and do some things offensively."

There was no more telling statistic of the Mets' offensive shortcomings on Saturday than this one: the Mets had just two plate appearances with runners in scoring position. It came in the eighth, when Beltran followed a Reyes double with a walk, only to have Carlos Delgado line out to the warning track in left field.

"We're a streaky offensive team," said general manager Omar Minaya. "We score a lot of runs, but we're streaky. We have to find a way to add runs. How do we do that? Good question."

3. They did this to themselves Yes, this collapse -- in which they gave back a 3 ½-game NL East lead in the last 18 games and were passed by both the Brewers and Phillies -- was not nearly as devastating as last season. But this is, nevertheless, a season that the Mets gave away. After their impressive three-game road sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee to start the month, they had 22 games remaining, half of them against clubs with winning records. They went just 5-6 in those games, but also just 5-6 against teams with losing records. The Brewers, a team that lost 15 of its first 19 games in September, somehow managed to sneak past the Mets and into the playoffs.

4. There is only one Johan Santana Having used every last ounce of Santana's magic on Saturday, there was no other option among the starting pitchers to give Mets fans confidence on Sunday. Oliver Perez cruised through the first five innings, but couldn't make it through the sixth. Aside from Santana, the Mets didn't have a consistently reliable starter who could pitch late into games and thereby limit the potential damage the bullpen could inflict. Manuel seemed resigned to those low expectations when he said of Perez's performance, "At some point we were going to have to go to the bullpen."

5. Is the magic gone? Minaya defended his group as having a core of players -- Beltran, Reyes, David Wright, Delgado and Santana -- that is still capable of getting the Mets over the hump and back to the postseason. But radical changes may be in store for a team that is moving into a new ballpark, and was just eliminated on the last day of the season for the second straight time, and underachieved down the stretch yet again. Minaya said he would explore the team's options starting tomorrow. "We have to find a way to get one or two more wins," he said.

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