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Morning Briefing: Mets inch closer to clinch

MIAMI -- The New York Mets will get one final day off this regular season on Thursday. Then it’s on to the business of clinching a National League wild-card spot this weekend in Philadelphia.

With three games remaining in their season, the Mets’ magic number to clinch a wild-card spot is down to two. That’s because the St. Louis Cardinals stranded the tying run on third base in the ninth inning on Wednesday and lost to the Cincinnati Reds.

The Mets now lead the Cardinals by 2½ games. St. Louis completes a series with the Reds on Thursday, then hosts the Pittsburgh Pirates for three games to close its season. The Mets lead the San Francisco Giants by 1½ games for the top wild-card spot.

Mets manager Terry Collins said the Mets can desperately use Thursday’s day off after a draining series in Miami following the death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez.

“We’re not tired by any means, but with the mental fatigue that we just went through the last three days, [Thursday] is a welcome day off,” Collins said. “We’ll let some guys get some rest and we’ll get ready for Friday night.”

THURSDAY’S NEWS REPORTS:

  • James Loney and Jay Bruce had two-run homers, Curtis Granderson reached base in all five plate appearances and Seth Lugo allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings as the Mets beat the Marlins, 5-2, in Wednesday’s rubber game. Jeurys Familia recorded his 50th save to establish a single-season record for a Dominican-born reliever and extended his Mets record. After a dismal start to his Mets career, Bruce has now homered in three of the last five games. Read game recaps in the Post, Daily News, Times, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.

  • Tim Tebow homered on the first pitch of his first official game since his junior year of high school. He finished 1-for-6 in his instructional league debut with the Mets on Wednesday in Port St. Lucie against Cardinals farmhands. Tebow and the farmhands play again on Thursday at noon ET, this time against Marlins minor leaguers. Read more in the Times, Daily News, Newsday and Post.

  • Lucas Duda was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup because of soreness due to ramped-up use. Collins said Duda’s removal from the lineup had nothing specifically to do with the stress fracture that sidelined him for four months. Read more at NJ.com.

  • Since Bartolo Colon only threw 47 pitches on Monday in Miami, Collins is considering having Colon return on short rest on Friday in Philadelphia rather than take his normal turn Saturday. That would put Colon on the proper rest for next Wednesday's wild-card game if Noah Syndergaard is unavailable. Still, Colon reportedly has a minor tendon issue in his right foot, so pushing his 43-year-old body may not be the wisest thing. Syndergaard is due to pitch the regular-season finale on Sunday in Philadelphia. But Syndergaard would be limited to 25 pitches if the Mets already have clinched and then would pitch in the wild-card game. Read more in the Post, Newsday and at NJ.com and at MLB.com.

  • Juan Lagares' ability to swing a bat again is a positive, but Mike Puma in the Post wonders if he should be on a postseason roster.

  • Robert Gsellman and Lugo have bailed out the Mets, columnist David Lennon writes in Newsday.

  • From the bloggers … Faith and Fear considers the Mets' record in historical context. … Mets Report suggests the team would not be where they are without Lugo.

BIRTHDAYS: Heath Bell turns 39. ... Enmanuel Zabala is 22.

TWEET OF THE DAY:

YOU’RE UP: How should the Mets use Syndergaard and Colon the final weekend of the regular season and beyond?