NEW YORK - In the bottom of the first inning, a few Mets fans were chanting: "Let's go Washington."
In a 28-minute, 52-pitch, top-of-the-first fiasco, a microcosm of all that had gone wrong for the Mets as they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to go, Shea Stadium had gone from hopeful to fatalistic. If they were going to give something away and take their rightful places along Bill Buckner, the 1986 Angels and the 1964 Phillies, these Mets were going to do it in style.
In his last game of the year during which he won his 300th game on his way to the Hall of Fame, Mets starter Tom Glavine threw 36 pitches. He faced nine batters. The first one walked after going down 0-2. The next one hit into a force. Everybody else reached base.
After five hits (including a few rockets), one walk and one hit batter, Glavine was gone. He had thrown 19 balls, 17 strikes (five of which became hits) and tossed a ball into the outfield when trying to stop a runner from advancing to third. Cody Ross, who smashed a slicing double into the rightfield corner to get the Florida Marlins really rolling, scored. Everybody scored.
Glavine was gone after he hit Dontrelle Willis. His day was not complete. Two more of his runners scored when Dan Uggla, the only player in the lineup who did not reach against Glavine, crushed a double off Jorge Sosa. Glavine left, down 7-0. It had to be the worst big-game start by a big-game pitcher in history. The normally free-swinging Marlins made Glavine throw strikes. He could not or would not do it. And when he did, they hit it.
The Mets were out of it so fast they were never in it.
They lost, 8-1. It seemed worse. It was worse. It ended their season. And nobody will forget how it ended and what led up to it.
In the top of the fourth, one fan, perhaps a late arrival that was given the details, yelled: "Glavine, I hate you."
It was that kind of day, that kind of September for a team that went from mortal lock to sports jail in one brutal stretch of really bad baseball.
The scoreboard was no kinder. The Phillies led the Nationals, 1-0, then 3-0, 5-1. And finally, 6-1.
The National League East, a division the Mets dominated last year and seemed to own this year, had been decided. There would be no need for a playoff game in Philadelphia today. There would be no need for anything but the recriminations. And a prominent page in baseball's Book of Great Chokes.
"We had an opportunity many times to put people away," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "We didn't play well at the right time, didn't play smart. It's very tough right now, very emotional . . . It's tough to be leading all the way through and not close the deal."
Glavine was asked if he was devastated.
"Devastation is for things in life that are much more important than this," he said. "I'm certainly disappointed. There were a couple of grounders in the hole, a couple of bloops."
There was one bloop. There were also those shots that needed no holes.
"It will take a while to get over this," Glavine said. "It shows that you can't take anything for granted in this game. You can't give games away . . . There were some games we gave away that led to this."
Even trailing 7-0, the Mets had immediate chances to get back into the game. They left the bases loaded in the first. The spike marks on the warning track from Ross' shoes as he was catching Ramon Castro's drive a few feet from the 371-foot sign stayed there the entire game, mocking the Mets players, their fans, maybe even New York itself.
The Mets left two on in the second and the bases loaded in the third. They got three hits (two infield singles) in the first and two in the final eight innings. They went meekly.
Willis, who managed to throw 76 pitches (34 strikes) in 2 2/3 innings, was just bad. He walked five. He fractured Carlos Delgado's left hand. He was gone before he could become awful. The Mets took over his role from there to the finish line, doing absolutely nothing but wait for the inevitable.
The Mets' clubhouse was somewhere between silent and comatose. Catcher Paul Lo Duca walked from teammate to teammate, hugging each one, saying nothing. All they had heard on the field were boos. Shawn Green was mindlessly autographing some bats, a way to cope with something none of them could have imagined 2 weeks before.
"Obviously, it's very painful," third baseman David Wright said. "It hurts. At the same time, we did it to ourselves. It's not like we couldn't see it coming. In all honesty, we didn't deserve it."
In the final week of the season, playing every game at home, the Mets lost five of six to the Nationals and Marlins, two teams that were mathematically eliminated in spring training. And they lost a makeup game to the Cardinals, who had zero interest in being in Queens last Thursday. In the losses to the Nats and Fish, the Mets gave up 47 runs. If you are going to blow it, you might as well do it in such grand fashion that your place in baseball lore is ensured forever.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya looked south rather than in the mirror.
"Yes, we did not win, but those guys [the Phillies], you've got to give them credit," he said. "They've been through this, come close and come up short. As much as you hate it, you had to really admire the way those guys went after it."
A sellout crowd (54,453) was at Shea yesterday. For the year, the Mets set a team record with 3,853,955 fans. All will deny they were part of this. A few that stayed to the end could be heard halfheartedly yelling "Fire Willie."
The Mets lost at 4:31 p.m. Four minutes later, a final Brett Myers curveball bent another pair of legs. The Mets had lost everything.
As the crowd dispersed down one ramp, a young fan had a white bag over his head. On the front, it read: "The Team, The Time, The Choke." He was walking a few paces behind a young fan with a Chase Utley jersey. *