All-Star Bobby Abreu spoiled the party and the Mets' flight to Florida with a RBI single in the seventh inning off reliever Mike Stanton, tying the game, and Abreu finished the damage in the ninth by belting a walk-off homer off losing pitcher John Franco.
Abreu's outbreak, part of a 4-for-5, three RBI night, cost the Mets an opportunity to call a piece of first place their own for the first time since Sept. 1, 2000.
Afterward, it was a mournful lament of missed opportunities that echoed through the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park – not so much from the pitching, but rather the offense, which was 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base in the loss.
To a man, the Mets called the loss and the four-game split with Philadelphia "disappointing," although some players tried to keep the game in perspective.
"It's still July," Stanton said. "If that was the last game of the season, maybe [it'd be crushing]. We're still right in the big fat thick of things, which is where we want to be."
But others, like Floyd, believed that the Phillies should count their blessings that they were seeing the Mets off with their lead still intact. Floyd said the Mets should have been celebrating a four-game sweep Thursday night instead of trying to appreciate a two-game deficit in the division.
"The way we've been playing, this is not satisfying," Floyd said. "We should have won them all."
"We really could have and should have won this game," added Mike Piazza, who is 0-for-9 in New York's last two games and will get a day off Friday.
But upon further reflection, if the Mets search for positives in their four-game set with Philadelphia, they'll find them.
The Mets proved that they could play head-to-head with the top team in their division, and perhaps their disappointment was a greater reflection of the Mets' new belief in themselves – after all, a series split on the road is nothing to scoff at.
"You deal with reality," Howe said. "We played as hard as we could. I think the Phillies know we're going to be around for the long haul."
As far as Soler goes, Duquette – while carefully mincing words, since Soler is not a player under contract with the team – hinted that the Mets weren't counting on him for the 2004 season, but rather as a long-term project.
"We're not likely to find an answer from an unproven pitcher," he said.
The Mets have also internally discussed the idea of adding relief pitching help. Duquette said that the search for a starter, which he characterized as "slow," bore more importance at the moment because relievers always seem to be available at the trade deadline.