(AP Photo/Ed Betz)
By JAY COHEN
The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets' lead in the NL East is gone. They might not even be in the playoffs at all if they can't snap out of their near historic funk.
The spiraling Mets managed just three hits off Joel Pineiro and Jason Isringhausen in a 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night that dropped them into a first-place tie with Philadelphia in the division.
(ED BETZ ~ Associated Press)
Not even Pedro Martinez could save New York, which had led the division alone every day since May 16.
The Mets (87-72) were ahead by seven games Sept. 12 with 17 remaining but have lost 10 of 14 overall and seven straight at home, a monumental tailspin for a team that counted on being in the playoffs.
"I think we're due to have something special happen to us because in the time I've been here I don't think we've had a little stretch playing games like that and kind of getting away from us that easy," Martinez said. "So I'm expecting something good to happen."
No major league team has failed to finish first after having at least a seven-game lead with 17 to play. But with three games remaining in the regular season -- a weekend series at home against Florida -- the Mets might fail to win the division or qualify as the wild card.
Philadelphia, which beat Atlanta 6-4 on Thursday, closes the season with three games at home against Washington. San Diego, which beat Milwaukee 9-5 in the opener of a four-game series Thursday, leads the Mets and Phillies by one game in the wild card.
"There's two choices: Roll over and start making vacation plans for the offseason, or battle like hell and win this thing," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "We still feel like this is our division."
The latest loss was inflicted by the Cardinals, who beat the Mets in Game 7 of the NL championship series last year. St. Louis went 12-17 down the stretch last year, squeaked into the playoffs and went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Skip Schumaker's RBI single gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the first, and the Cardinals pushed across two more runs in the third on a double by Albert Pujols and a single by Ryan Ludwick.
Martinez (3-1) allowed seven hits in seven innings, struck out eight and walked one. He threw a season-high 105 pitches in his first loss in five starts since coming back from shoulder surgery.
While Martinez turned in a solid effort, the Mets offense was nonexistent against Pineiro (6-4), who struck out six and walked one in a season-high eight innings.
Isringhausen worked a perfect ninth to earn his 31st save and complete the three-hitter.