PHILADELPHIA -- The Mets feel like they're so close. But it's September now. They need to be more than close.
New York got a big series win against the Phillies this weekend, one of the teams it needs to catch in the National League Wild Card race. But the Mets couldn't pull off the sweep -- and they had their chances. They fell, 5-2, in Sunday night's series finale at Citizens Bank Park, with Scott Kingery's bases-clearing double off Jeurys Familia in the bottom of the eighth spoiling the Mets' own game-tying rally in the top of the inning.
"We just need to win. It's simple as that," Pete Alonso said. "Winning solves all problems. But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."
All these things happened on Sunday night: Alonso pulled into a tie for the MLB home run lead, hitting No. 43 in the first inning to equal the Angels' Mike Trout and the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger. Wilson Ramos extended his hitting streak to 25 games, third-longest in Mets history. Marcus Stroman buckled down to deliver what was, by the numbers, his best start as a Met -- six-plus innings of two-run ball in his first taste of the Mets-Phillies rivalry.
And Brandon Nimmo not only returned to the field for the first time since May -- with Robinson Cano maybe only two days behind him -- he helped spark the Mets' rally in the eighth, drawing a seven-pitch, pinch-hit walk before scampering home to score the tying run on a wild pitch. Still, the win eluded them.
The Mets tied the game in the eighth, but they maybe missed out on their best chance for more, giving up an out by bringing in Luis Guillorme to bunt two runners over while power bat J.D. Davis went unused on the bench. They tried to finagle their way through the heart of the Phillies order in the bottom of the eighth with a combination of September callup Daniel Zamora and Familia, who again gave up the big hit in a high-leverage situation, as Edwin Diaz awaited a lead the Mets never took.
"The reality of it is that I just haven't been able to get the job done this year," Familia said through an interpreter.
The Mets (69-67) would have leapfrogged Philadelphia in the standings with a sweep. They would have made up a game on the Cubs, who lost earlier Sunday; instead, the Mets are four games back of a Wild Card spot. If the Mets had won Sunday night, there would have been no teams left between them and the two Wild Card leaders; with the loss, they're behind not just the Phillies, but the Brewers and D-backs too.
"You always want to pick one up. You want to win every inning. You want to win every game. But the reality is we didn't," manager Mickey Callaway said. "So let's go tomorrow and see if we can gain some ground."
The Mets are playing meaningful games in September, the situation they fought so hard to be in, and taking the series from an NL East and playoff-race rival looks good. But the Mets have ground to make up in the Wild Card hunt, with less than a month to do it and an upcoming schedule with no letup. A sweep would have looked great.
"We had a good opportunity today. We didn't do it," Alonso said. "But with that, we did win the series. What we need to do is just come out, play really well tomorrow, and try to take a series or sweep in Washington."
Now, the Mets board a train to Washington for a series with stakes just as high -- three games against the Wild Card-leading Nationals starting on Labor Day. After that, it's three more against the Phillies at Citi Field. Then four against the D-backs, who are just ahead of the Mets in the Wild Card standings. Then three against the juggernaut Dodgers. It's a 13-game make-or-break stretch that will likely define the Mets' season.
"We still have a great opportunity in front of us," Alonso said. "I think that we've been doing such an amazing job of fighting all year, we've put ourselves in a pretty good position from where we were at earlier this year. To still have this chance, it's been a remarkable comeback for us."