NEW YORK -- The final punch came late Wednesday afternoon as the Mets were taking early batting practice at Citi Field. Eight hundred miles to the south, the National League Wild Card-leading Braves had just finished off a victory over the Marlins, mathematically eliminating the Mets from playoff contention more than five months after their journey began.
"The way things have gone in the last couple of weeks, we knew our chances were slim, at best," manager Terry Collins said. "So we're realistic enough to know. But I will press the point on a daily basis: You still play. You still play the game the right way. You still go about the job the right way."
To their credit, the Mets did so, despite a 2-0 defeat to the Nationals. Mike Pelfrey pitched his best game in nearly two months and the Mets rallied throughout the middle innings, they simply could not execute offensively.
Pelfrey's only trouble surfaced when David Wright committed his seventh error in the last nine games, mishandling Ian Desmond's routine ground ball in the third. Following a two-out walk to Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth touched Pelfrey for consecutive RBI singles.
"Right now you've got to be perfect," Collins said. "And when you're not, the way we're struggling offensively, we can't provide any support."
As Collins hinted, the early runs were enough for Nationals pitcher Brad Peacock, making his second big league appearance and first career start. Not allowing a hit until the fourth inning, Peacock held the Mets to two singles and two walks over five innings.
Though the Mets rallied often in the middle innings against Peacock and reliever Tom Gorzelanny, three times putting a runner in scoring position with fewer than two outs, they could not produce any sustained offense.
Their best chance came in the seventh, when pinch-hitter Justin Turner doubled and moved to third with one out. But Jose Reyes popped out and Ruben Tejada grounded out to end the threat.
Another opportunity surfaced in the ninth, when Nats closer Drew Storen walked the first two batters of the inning. But Turner popped out, Jason Pridie hit into a fielder's choice and Rick Ankiel made a diving catch of Reyes' liner to end the game.
So it went in another loss for the Mets, who have endured 78 of them to date. Any realistic hope of a postseason berth faded in early August, when a litany of injuries and trades caught up with the Mets and they began publicly acknowledging their postseason fate. That it took another month and a half for them to face mathematical elimination was a testament to their pluck; with some exceptions, the Mets have played the game as Collins has wished.
Now it is a matter of preparing for next season. The Mets do not know if Reyes will be back, so they are taking precautions to ease the strain on his oft-injured legs. That may not help Reyes in his attempt to land a mega-contract this winter, but a batting title -- he finished 1-for-5 on Wednesday to drop his league-leading average to .331 -- might.
"We know that we're out of contention right now, and it's disappointing," Reyes said. "But at the same time, we still have two weeks of baseball."
And the Mets are still accepting applications for job openings across the diamond. Notable performances down the stretch from either Turner or Tejada could sway next spring's second-base competition, for example. A strong finish from Dillon Gee could help him lock down a rotation spot. And sharp play from Pelfrey, Angel Pagan and Josh Thole may ensure that they retain roles of substance come February.
The Mets know that despite their struggles this season, the clubhouse may not look much different come April -- meaning they need to learn how to win with what they have.
"What the front office does and what happens in the clubhouse is completely different," Wright said. "They try to provide the pieces of the puzzle, and it's up to us to go out there and do that job. No matter what guys we have coming in and out of this clubhouse, the goal in here is to try to get the job done.
"Obviously, it's disappointing each year that you don't go to the playoffs, no matter what the circumstances are, and this is another one of those years. Hopefully, everybody gets a little bit better during the offseason and we come in here next year just as hungry, trying to get back to that playoff-caliber team."
If nothing else, the Mets do not want to finish this season in the NL basement.
And yet thoughts of the standings can be almost counterproductive.
"When you say you're not playing for anything because you're out of the playoffs, that's not true," Collins said. "This game's played by people that better approach this game with respect. And with that respect comes effort, so that's what we expect to see."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.