With Barry Bonds’ run at 70 home runs and the Mariners’ chase toward the all-time wins record currently occupying the spotlight, the Mets had quietly crept into the playoff race.

Just one month ago, they were a season-low 14 games below .500. But since that point, New York won 22 of 27 games and yesterday afternoon stood one strike away from a three-game sweep of the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

One more strike and the Mets would have moved to within two-and-a-half games behind their division nemesis with a 4-1 win. All Armando Benitez needed was to throw one more pitch past Brian Jordan and the Mets would be riding an unstoppable wave of momentum that could have propelled one of baseball’s hottest teams to a National League East title.

Instead, Jordan drilled that next pitch out of the park, bringing the Braves to within a run at 4-3. Atlanta then scored again in the ninth and once more in the 13th for the 5-4 comeback win.

Jordan’s home run, and the Braves’ ensuing victory, was the knockout punch that ended the Mets’ playoff hopes.

This essentially season-ending loss should cause Met fans a lot more pain than usual. Now, all the gritty baseball the Mets had played over the past month is basically meaningless.

That the Mets had somehow managed to break into the pennant race from where they stood in August is impressive. But upon looking at the way they actually came to be three games over .500, the game that slipped away will make Benitez feel that much worse.

Because of a complete lack of offensive production, New York had to work a lot harder than most teams for its victories. The Mets were able to fight their way into the pennant race despite having allowed 65 more runs than they scored.

Moreover, New York managed to pull within three-and-a-half games of first place, even though the team ranks dead last in the major leagues in runs scored with 588.

To put this in perspective, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are next-to-last in runs scored, have scored 13 more times than the Mets but are on pace to lose over 100 games this season.

The logical conclusion would be that the Mets pitching would have to be near perfect to balance out their meager offensive production, but in fact it hasn’t been that great — they only rank eighth in runs allowed.

So despite the major league’s worst offense, the Mets used a slightly above average pitching staff and hard-fought baseball to pull within striking distance of the NL East crown.

Unfortunately for Met fans, Benitez’s blown save spoiled that effort and put third-place New York a nearly insurmountable four-and-a-half games out with only 12 to play.

The Mets may still overtake the Braves and Phillies, but losing a three-run lead with two outs in the ninth in a pivotal game is likely too great a blow to a team’s momentum this late in the season.