NEW YORK -- Following the last bewildering loss of a season gone sour, the dejected New York Mets filed into their quiet clubhouse and packed for a particularly stark winter.
When they needed a big game, Tom Glavine pitched one of his worst. And now, their collapse is complete.
After blowing a big September lead in the NL East, the Mets missed the playoffs Sunday when Glavine was battered for seven runs during the first inning of a season-ending 8-1 loss to the Florida Marlins.
"It's something that's going to take a while for us to get over," said Glavine, pitching for maybe the last time in his major league career.
New York's defeat coupled with Philadelphia's 6-1 win over Washington gave the division title to the Phillies and sent the stunned Mets home wondering how they squandered a seven-game cushion over the final 18 days of an excruciating season.
Now, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and the rest of this talented team will forever be remembered alongside the 1964 Phillies and other famous failures for skidding to one of baseball's most monumental collapses.
"It's going to be a long offseason. I know I don't want to experience it again," Wright said.
No major league team had owned a lead of seven games or more with 17 to play and failed to finish in first place. New York, which had that margin on Sept. 12, matched the largest lead blown in September. The 1934 New York Giants (Sept. 6) and 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates (Sept. 1) and also led by seven games in the final month only to drop into a fatal tailspin.
A win Sunday not only would have kept the Mets even with Philadelphia and forced a one-game playoff for the division title, it would have tied them with Colorado and San Diego for the wild card. So they would have had two ways to reach the postseason.
Instead, the Mets lost six of their final seven games -- all at home -- and are out.
"Everyone's definitely numb," Shawn Green said. "To say disappointed would be the understatement of the year."
Philadelphia swept a three-game series at Shea Stadium from Sept. 14-16 -- giving the Phillies wins in the final eight meetings between the teams. That started a slide the Mets never recovered from. They even lost star slugger Carlos Delgado in the season finale to a broken hand.
Doomed by inadequate starting pitching and a leaky, exhausted bullpen, New York dropped 12 of its last 17 games, committing 21 errors in the process. The Mets' ERA during the slide was 5.96, third-worst in the majors over that span.
"The harder we pushed, the worse it got," closer Billy Wagner said as he packed a bag at his locker.
When Luis Castillo struck out and ended New York's latest lackluster defeat against a second-division club, that prompted one last round of boos at Shea Stadium this year.
Moments later, the final in Philadelphia was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard and Mets fans shuffled toward the exits, quietly muttering to themselves.
"We're devastated, also," manager Willie Randolph said. "It's just a tough life lesson in baseball."
It was one of the darkest days for a franchise that prided itself on late-season comebacks in 1969, 1973 and in the 1986 World Series against Boston.
Last year, the Mets advanced to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series before losing 3-1 to St. Louis. Beltran struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, a sudden end to a thrilling season.
This time, the pain was drawn out over 2½ weeks of wretched play -- and the finale was a wash from the first inning on.
Randolph took his share of the blame.
"I'm the manager of the team. I accept full responsibility. I don't have any problem with that," he said.
After squandering their cushion, the Mets fell a game behind Philadelphia with their fifth consecutive loss Friday night. But they bounced back when John Maine nearly pitched the club's first no-hitter Saturday in a fight-filled rout of Florida, which pulled them back into a tie for first when the Phillies lost to the Nationals.
That put the Mets' fate back in their own hands and gave them hope that their massive slide was over.
"It's definitely been a roller-coaster the last couple days," Green said. "We just got in a funk at the wrong time."
The previous time two teams went into the final day of the regular season tied atop a division -- and neither assured of the wild card -- was 1993. Glavine started for Atlanta that day and beat Colorado 5-3, sending the Braves into the playoffs with help from a Dodgers blowout of San Francisco.
This time, the 303-game winner put his team in a huge hole. He was chased after getting only one out and charged with all seven of Florida's early runs. He made a throwing error and hit Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis with a pitch with the bases loaded, mistakes that symbolized the Mets' late collapse.
"We were definitely pumped up after yesterday," said Florida's Cody Ross, who hit a two-run double.
The seven runs matched the most Glavine (13-8) allowed in an inning during his 21 years in the majors, the Elias Sports Bureau said. He also gave up seven to Colorado in 1996.
It also was the second-shortest start of his brilliant career -- and perhaps his last.
The 41-year-old left-hander is contemplating retirement, or he might choose to pitch elsewhere next season. Glavine, also roughed up in a 10-9 loss to Washington on Tuesday night, has a $13 million player option for next year with a $3 million buyout.
"I want to go home and figure out what I want to do," Glavine said. "I'm disappointed. It's not the way I wanted to pitch."
- Willis hit his third triple of the year.
- Wright finished the season with a 17-game hitting streak.
- Logan Kensing (3-0) pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings for the win.