PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are the best team in baseball -- their record clearly says so. The Mets, for now at least, are something less. That alone guarantees nothing in a random meeting on a Monday in August. But it can also go a long way toward producing something ugly.
Take Monday, for example. Coming off one of his more uplifting starts in recent weeks, Dillon Gee struggled to retire anybody in what he called "probably the worst outing I've ever had." And his relief was no better, dropping the Mets to a 10-0 loss in front of a sold-out crowd that had largely dispersed by game's end.
"Right now, we're not hitting and we're not pitching," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And that's a bad combination."
Much had already been decided by the time Gee walked John Mayberry, Jr. -- his fourth free pass over a six-batter span -- to force in a run in the fourth inning. Mayberry had already produced a two-run homer in the third inning and Shane Victorino had added a two-run triple in the second. And if any doubt still existed, Ryota Igarashi squashed it by giving up a two-run single to Carlos Ruiz in the fourth inning and a two-run single to Hunter Pence in the sixth.
So less than three hours after they began, the Mets were left wondering precisely what happened here in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"It's just weird," Gee said. "Tonight I actually felt pretty good physically, I just wasn't locating any of my pitches. It's tough to put a finger on things because I didn't really feel like I threw that much different than I did my last outing. It was just this one, whenever I threw a pitch over the plate, they got a hit. It got out of hand pretty quickly.
"It was just one of those nights where absolutely nothing would go my way, and I couldn't figure it out."
In short, Gee -- who walked six total -- could not do what Phillies starter Cliff Lee seemingly achieved with ease, allowing merely three hits in seven breezy innings. Though Lee uncharacteristically walked three batters and put at least one man on base in each of his seven innings, the Mets capitalized on none of his mistakes.
Instead, Lee earned a standing ovation after his final at-bat of the evening against D.J. Carrasco in the seventh.
"When you're going up against Cliff Lee, you're going to have to do some pretty special things," said third baseman David Wright, who argued animatedly after striking out looking in the sixth. "We didn't get that done."
Asked if his team was overmatched, Collins said simply: "We're playing like it."
Certainly, no team can provide a better barometer for the Mets than the Phillies, their most heated rivals throughout the latter half of last decade. While the Phillies have recently won a World Series and remain among the favorites to repeat the trick this October, the Mets have descended into patterns of injuries and ineffectiveness. Their loss on Monday was their fourth straight, their 16th in their last 22 games and their 22nd in 36 games since the All-Star break. They have lost Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy to injury and Carlos Beltran to trade; Monday, they played the final four innings without Angel Pagan, who left with a stomach virus.
"They had really good talent when I first came here to manage," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "They still have a pretty good offense."
Shortstop Ruben Tejada provided the only real highlights for the Mets, singling twice and tumbling over a rolled-up tarp to catch Chase Utley's foul pop in the third. And those are the types of positives the Mets will need to take from their final three dozen games, knowing that Tejada, Gee and Lucas Duda may all play significant roles for the club next season.
For those players, at least, losses such as Monday's can provide valuable lessons.
"It's tough to play any team when you're feeling this bad," Gee said, "especially a team is good as them. But it's not like we can't turn it around. It will happen."
"It's us as a team," Wright said. "Everybody is guilty of it to some degree, and we just need to clean it up a little bit and go out there and try to play better baseball."