PHOENIX -- If the Mets still had any designs on climbing back into playoff contention, the last of them melted away this weekend under the Arizona sun. Sunday's 5-3 loss at Chase Field punctuated a three-game sweep at the hands of the D-backs, spiraling the Mets further out of contention than they have been all season.
They arrived here late on Thursday night, calling this West Coast road trip "huge," "important," "critical" and such. They departed Sunday evening using starkly different adjectives.
"It's tough," starting pitcher Chris Capuano said.
"It's a little frustrating," added outfielder Angel Pagan.
There were no major gaffes in Sunday's finale, just a slow burn against a team that flat out beat them. Capuano allowed four runs to the D-backs and the Mets could not counter, absorbing their fifth consecutive defeat and their 11th in 14 games.
By the end, many of the players sported vacant looks, as they watched Ryota Igarashi walk in a key run in the eighth inning, stealing away any chance they might have had at a comeback. Once fill-in closer David Hernandez retired the last of them in the ninth, the Mets quietly returned to their clubhouse, quietly packed their bags and quietly walked to their bus.
"The main thing here is to keep fighting," Pagan said. "We've been battling hard, without much luck. But we have to just keep trying and see if that changes, somehow."
If anything was to change on Sunday, it might have happened in the seventh, after Pagan doubled to lead off the inning and Justin Turner moved him to third base with one out. But Micah Owings struck out David Wright and, following a walk to Lucas Duda, whiffed Jason Bay to end the threat.
"I thought we had a good shot to get a run, but they pitched very good," Pagan said. "They did a good job."
Owings had entered the game in relief of Zach Duke, who was pitching only because Jason Marquis broke his right fibula on Pagan's sharp ground ball that glanced off his shin in the third. Though Marquis -- unaware of the severity of his injury -- pitched to five more batters before departing, he walked one of them, hit another and gave up Lucas Duda's solo home run in the fourth.
"I thought it was just a normal bruise -- swelling, tightness -- and I felt like the pain was enough to deal with to stay out there and pitch," Marquis said. "Obviously, on that last pitch to [Josh] Thole, pushing off I just felt something go."
Duda also singled home a run off Duke in the fifth inning, and Turner added an RBI double. But Capuano could not hold the lead, serving up a game-tying homer to Justin Upton in the fifth and a go-ahead double to former Mets catcher Henry Blanco in the sixth. As he has three times in his last four starts, Capuano allowed a total of four runs in six innings.
"I feel like I'm throwing the ball well, and I'm close," Capuano said. "But I've got to do better than six innings, four runs."
Often since the trade of Carlos Beltran and the injuries to Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy, that sort of offensive output has been enough to sink the Mets, who have averaged exactly four runs over their last 14 games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have won just three of them, twice needing dramatic late-inning comebacks to do so.
In the process, talk has gradually shifted from this summer's playoff race to the organization's plans for next year. Igarashi, who walked home a run to seal the game in the eighth inning, blamed his struggles on an attempt to refine his curveball. Soon, Igarashi will have company in the bullpen from a host of September callups looking to make the team next season.
Addressing the state of his club following Sunday's loss, even manager Terry Collins, an eternal optimist, referred in passing to 2012. And that made sense. The Mets suddenly stand 20 1/2 games off the division lead and 11 1/2 games out of the Wild Card race. They have only 42 games left to play.
And so, the Mets left for San Diego feeling down, feeling beaten, yet determined to improve the various aspects of their game. Better pitching would help. More consistent offense is essential. San Diego will be a testing ground for those things and others.
"We can do it," Pagan said. "We're a fighting team, and we just have to keep going."