DENVER -- It was nothing more than an innocent reminder when interim manager Jerry Manuel said it, addressing Pedro Martinez's future before Saturday night's game.

But it might as well have been a warning.

"Pedro's not in the morning of his career," Manuel said. "He's toward the evening of his career, and we have to be careful with him. We have to make sure the sun doesn't set. Just have to make sure we keep it right there about five o'clock."

But on Saturday, the clock ticked ever closer to midnight. Exactly what happened during the fifth inning eluded Martinez, but the product was clear. The Mets, because of that inning, dropped a 7-1 game to the Rockies -- their first defeat in three games.

"I'm paid to do one thing here," Martinez said. "And I tried to do it today, and I didn't do it very well."

But he did -- or at least he appeared to, cruising through the first four innings with little more than some stray hits and walks breaking his stride. Then he took the mound in the fifth inning, with his Mets clinging to a one-run lead.

He threw one pitch. Home run, Garrett Atkins.

He stomped back up on the mound, and then threw a second pitch.

Home run, Brad Hawpe.

The switch had been flipped, and Martinez could not reverse direction. Five of the next six Rockies recorded hits off Martinez, and by the time he left the game with one out in the fifth, six runs had scored on a night when two would have been enough.

"Man, I'll tell you he was cruising," Manuel said. "He was probably the best that we had seen at this point. But he's just at that point of his career where a little mistake here and a little mistake there maybe cost him."

The stat sheet tallied seven mistakes in that inning, though Martinez insisted that they shouldn't have all been trouble. Some of the hits were not hit hard at all, including Matt Holliday's single -- the hit that drove Martinez from the game -- which broke Holliday's bat but still fell in for a hit. Martinez shrugged, and called him a "strong bull."

Martinez also called himself unlucky. And then he accepted total blame.

"The pitches that they hit were the pitches I wanted to throw," he said.

Perhaps the greater problem on this night wasn't Martinez, but Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez. It didn't seem as if Jimenez would present a problem -- especially not when Jose Reyes tripled to lead off the game and scored on Luis Castillo's sacrifice fly. And though Manuel said his Mets weren't overconfident against a pitcher with a 1-7 record, he was certainly "surprised" that Jimenez was able to fire eight innings of two-hit ball.

Martinez, in fact, may have been the only Met who wasn't surprised. He's got a theory that either through luck or coincidence, opposing pitchers tend to have their best games when he's on the mound. So Martinez lauded his "fellow Dominican," and simply tipped his cap.

"Hey, it's not every day you're going to outdo a performance like that kid did on the other side," Martinez said. "I wish I could have, but it didn't happen. That kid did a [heck] of a job."

Martinez also eliminated one possible excuse for his meltdown, that the thin Denver air prevented him from finding the proper feel for the ball. It did -- Martinez, in his fourth career start at Coors Field, confirmed that much -- but Jimenez didn't have a comparable problem.

So Martinez didn't have an excuse.

"It does affect your pitches, but everybody else pitches here," Martinez said. "So there is no whining. You just have to give them credit and hope for another chance."

He won't have another chance against the Rockies, but he will against the rest of the league. And with the Mets suddenly back in a race for the National League East title -- the Phillies lost again Saturday -- every chance will be just as significant as the next.

With the way the Mets have been playing over the past few days, it's almost natural to chalk this loss up to Jimenez. Martinez insisted that he pitched well despite the six-run inning, and Manuel called him "fun to watch." Even the Rockies -- the same team that handed the Mets righty his worst loss since his final start of 2006 -- were impressed.

"He's good," was the conclusion Hawpe drew from their first career meeting.

"He made some quality pitches," said Hawpe, "that weren't good pitches to hit."

So the Mets will consider this loss merely a blip, unless time and context can prove otherwise. And right now, there's little reason to believe that the "otherwise" might be true.