The Marlins are making a nagging habit out of coming close but not finishing the job, and it has all but destroyed what little chance they had remaining of sticking around in the playoff hunt during baseball’s final month.
With a chance to take their series with the New York Mets, they lost Wednesday’s rubber match, 4-3. It was the fifth series in a row they could have captured with a finale win but instead fell short with a loss.
And so, instead of owning a winning record with wins in each of those games, they are four games below .500 at 67-71 with time running out on the season.
On a night when Tom Koehler turned in a pitching gem and Giancarlo Stanton homered for the third game in a row, moving to within one home run of Dan Uggla’s franchise record of 154, they couldn’t put away a fourth-place Mets team that has won seven of their past eight meetings.
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“It’s tough because we know what we have in front of us, know what has to be done,” Koehler said. “It’s just that big pitch, that big play that we’re missing. It’s just the little things inside the game that are coming back to hurt us right now.”
The Marlins have lost each of their past five series finales: to the Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, and now the Mets.
Wednesday’s outcome wasted the first solid outing of the series by a Marlins’ starting pitcher. Neither of Miami’s first two starters in the Mets series, Henderson Alvarez and Brad Penny, managed to make it into the fourth.
But Koehler was superb, save for one pitch to Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
After the Mets put runners at second and third to start the game, Koehler fanned three in a row to get out of the jam.
And the K’s kept on coming for Koehler.
By the time he was done after completing seven innings, Koehler had not only established a new personal mark with 10 strikeouts but had become only the second Marlins pitcher this season other than Jose Fernandez to whiff that many.
The only other hurler to do it was Nathan Eovaldi, who struck out 10 on May 19, also against the Mets.
But Koehler was hard on himself afterward.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be able to go out there and win a ballgame 1-0,” Koehler said. “That’s what you see the really solid starters do. You go out there when the team gives you the lead and they shut ’em down. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.”
Koehler’s problem was that the Marlins’ lineup didn’t help him much, as Mets rookie Jacob deGrom was equally impressive. The Marlins were able to put runners aboard against the right-hander, but they left them stranded there.
The Marlins scored their only run off deGrom in the third when Casey McGehee hit a high chopper over the mound and barely beat it out for an RBI single to give Miami a 1-0 lead.
But it didn’t last long.
With two outs in the fourth, Koehler walked Travis d’Arnaud before giving up the go-ahead homer to Nieuwenhuis on a 1-1 fastball.
“Two batters,” Koehler said. “Other than that, felt good. Unfortunately, personal results don’t really matter right now when we’re trying to go on a little bit of a run and win ballgames. I’d much rather I got rocked and we won the game.”
The score remained 2-1 until the seventh when Adeiny Hechavarria doubled over the head of Juan Lagares in center and scored on Christian Yelich’s two-out single off lefty reliever Dario Alvarez, who was making his major-league debut.
But the Mets regained the lead in the eighth off the Marlins’ bullpen, as Mike Dunn and Bryan Morris — two of the Marlins’ most dependable back-end relievers — paired to give up two runs.
Stanton went deep in the eighth to make it 4-3 and give him 36 homers, one shy of his career high. It also left him with 153 for his career, just behind Uggla on the team’s all-time list.
But it was a solo shot that only cut the Mets’ lead to one run, and the Marlins couldn’t overcome that deficit.
Dunn was saddled with the loss, dropping his record to 10-6.