BY CLARK SPENCER
NEW YORK – The gnarly weather obliged the New York Mets and their loyal fans, on hand to witness perhaps one of Shea Stadium’s final chapters and the moment of truth in the Mets season.
But with their playoff prospects resting on an important weekend series against the Marlins, the Mets stumbled in the opener on Friday, dropping a 6-1 decision before a largely subdued crowd of 49,545.
The gray, low-hanging clouds blanketing the New York metropolitan area provided the appropriate backdrop for the Mets, who are trying to avoid another gloomy ending to a flickering season.
The Marlins, reduced to spoilers, are relishing every moment of the Mets’ agony.
One year after eliminating the Mets on the combative final weekend of the 2007 season, the Marlins were back to their old ways on Friday, receiving a plus pitching performance from rookie Chris Volstad and enough scoring to put away the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey.
The Mets dropped to two games behind the Philadelphia Phillies -- with two remaining -- in the National League East. They started the day tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL wild card. But the Brewers had just taken a 5-1 lead on the Chicago Cubs when the Mets game ended.
It didn’t take the Marlins long to stir dark memories for the Mets, who saw their season erupt in flames last year when the Marlins scored seven runs in the first inning of the final game off Tom Glavine.
They didn’t roll another seven on Friday.
But they struck instantly, very likely arousing fans in Philadelphia and Milwaukee once the deuce flashed on their home park scoreboards.
They extended the lead in the sixth when Josh Willingham connected on a home run for the fourth straight game, equaling a club record. And, after the Mets managed to get on the scoreboard with an unearned run in the sixth, the Marlins added two more runs in the seventh and another in the eighth.
Shea’s fans let out a collective groan.
Hanley Ramirez, who had four hits, added three more runs to his major-league leading total of 125, which matches the team record he set last season. John Baker was on base four times, with the end result being Pelfrey’s fourth loss to the Marlins this season in as many decisions.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel used seven pitchers in relief of Pelfrey and, with wins now paramount and time running out, was expected to announce that Johan Santana would now start Saturday on three days rest. Santana, the ace of the staff, was scheduled to go Sunday.
But not even Mets pitching legend Dwight Gooden, who is expected to be on hand for what could be the final game played at Shea on Sunday, will be able to help the Mets if they don’t get a win on Saturday against the Marlins’ 15-game winner, Ricky Nolasco.
Volstad wasn’t sharp in his last start of he season, allowing three singles, issuing a pair of walks, and hitting a batter within the first three innings. None of those runners scored, however, as the Mets wasted valuable chances to make up the early deficit. Ryan Church flied out with the bases loaded in the first to end one threat, Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy did the same after two Mets had reached in the second, and Church grounded into a inning-ending double play in the third.
Volstad, who ended his rookie campaign with a 6-4 record and 2.88 earned run average, did not allow an earned run to the Mets.