Another collapse befalls Mets as bullpen allows key homers

NEW YORK -- Mets collapse, the sequel.

Doomed by a dreadful bullpen that failed them again Sunday, the New York Mets completed their second consecutive September slide with a 4-2 loss to Florida that knocked them out of playoff contention in the final game at Shea Stadium.

Scott Schoeneweis and Luis Ayala served up back-to-back homers in the eighth inning that put the pesky Marlins ahead, and New York (89-73) lost out to Milwaukee (90-72) for the NL wild card on the last day of the season.

"We failed. We failed as a team," David Wright said. "There's no pointing fingers. There's no excuses. We as a unit didn't get the job done."

What followed was an awkward scene at Shea.

The Mets brought in former greats from Tom Seaver and Willie Mays to Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry for closing festivities that felt more like a funeral than a party.

Still, a vast majority of fans stayed in their seats and cheered their old favorites during a ceremony that lasted nearly an hour.

"It would have been better if we would have won today, but I don't think it spoils the celebration," general manager Omar Minaya said. "What's going on out there, it's about the history of this building, the history of the players, the history of this organization."

As New York played Florida, the Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1, earning the league's last postseason spot. After filing into the clubhouse, several Mets started clearing out their lockers and saying their goodbyes, another bitter winter ahead.

It was an eerily similar scenario to last year, when New York lost at home to Florida on the final day of season, ending their playoff hopes.

That defeat finished one of baseball's biggest meltdowns -- the Mets had led the NL East by seven games with 17 to play before they went 5-12 down the stretch. This time, they held first place by a season-high 3 1/2 games with 17 remaining before going 7-10 the rest of the way.

"I have to believe it, because it's happening," Carlos Beltran said. "It's a bad group for you to be there, as a player. I have no more words."

Excluding the 1981 split season, the Mets became the first team in major league history to hold 3 1/2-game division leads in consecutive Septembers and fail to make the postseason both times, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I'd rather not think about it," Carlos Delgado said.

New York wasted Beltran's tying, two-run homer in the sixth, a useful start by Oliver Perez on short rest and another clutch catch by Endy Chavez. Delgado flied out to deep left with two on to end the eighth, and former Mets prospect Matt Lindstrom retired Ryan Church on a flyout to the edge of the center-field warning track with a runner on to close it out.

"You feel heartbroken," Church said.

Pinch-hitter Wes Helms homered off Schoeneweis (2-6) to start the eighth, snapping a 2-all tie. Dan Uggla connected against Ayala.

The Mets pulled into a tie with Milwaukee for the wild card on Saturday, thanks to Johan Santana's three-hit shutout on three days' rest and the Brewers' 7-3 loss to Chicago.

But a day later, New York was out. The Mets finished 1,859-1,713 at Shea, according to Elias.

Joe Nelson (3-1) struck out two in a perfect seventh and Lindstrom earned his fifth save. Florida players weren't shy in recent days about saying they wanted to wreck New York's season again.

"It is fun. I'm not going to lie to you," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Missing injured closer Billy Wagner for the final two months, the Mets finished with 29 blown saves, including 16 since the All-Star break -- most in the National League.

"I'm still kind of in shock over it," a teary-eyed Schoeneweis said before cutting his comments short. "I can't describe it. If I could take it back, I would, but I can't."

The offense fizzled, too. Playing its most important games of the year, New York scored only five runs against Florida over the weekend.

"It's tough to swallow," Jose Reyes said.

With the Mets trailing 2-0, pinch-hitter Robinson Cancel drew a leadoff walk from starter Scott Olsen in the sixth. One out later, Beltran hit his 27th homer and sent the sellout crowd of 56,059 into a frenzy.

With two outs and a runner on second in the seventh, Jorge Cantu hit a shot that appeared to be headed over Chavez's head until he raced back and reached up to make a difficult catch on the run.

When he made the grab, Chavez was only steps from the spot where he leaped above the fence for an incredible catch that saved the Mets -- momentarily -- in Game 7 of the NL championship series against St. Louis.

The Cardinals wound up winning anyway, and the Mets have flopped over and over again in big games since.

"We haven't been able to put it together, for whatever reason," Delgado said. "We were a playoff-caliber ballclub that didn't get it done."

Revved up fans were lined up outside the gates three hours before the scheduled first pitch, hoping to celebrate Shea Stadium's regular-season finale in style.

After the start was delayed 51 minutes by rain, Perez took a two-hit shutout into the sixth. But he gave up a leadoff double to Cameron Maybin on a 1-2 pitch and a soft RBI single to John Baker.

Perez was pulled with the bases loaded and one out for Joe Smith, who walked Josh Willingham to force in a run. Smith, a submarine specialist, escaped further damage.

"This team I thought did an unbelievable job getting us to today," said Minaya, reflecting on the injuries and choosing to stay positive. "I thing what went wrong -- we're a streaky offensive team."

Game notes
All-Star SS Hanley Ramirez was out of Florida's lineup with a stiff left shoulder. ... Schoeneweis went 0-4 after Aug. 25. ... Brian Gorman was the first base umpire. His father, Tom, worked the plate during the first game at Shea Stadium on April 17, 1964. ... The Mets will move into their new ballpark, Citi Field, next April.