NEW YORK -- There is still baseball to be played across the country. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers and Rockies will contest a 163rd game to determine the NL West winner. Two Wild Card games remain, and three other rounds of postseason play. At the end of each, clubhouse attendants will hang plastic sheets in the winning team's clubhouse, protecting valuables from the spray of champagne.
The Mets entered this season hoping to be among them. When they sprang out to a franchise-best 11-1 start, they believed they would be.
When their season ended in a 1-0 win over the Marlins on Sunday, with Noah Syndergaard throwing a shutout at Citi Field to remind the Mets of their vast potential, they thought again about what could have been.
"It's going to hurt to watch some of these celebrations moving forward," manager Mickey Callaway said. "But you know what? We need to sit there and watch that, and let it hurt."
It hurts more because the Mets believed they had the talent to be one of those teams. Over the final eight weeks of the regular season, the Mets rated as one of baseball's 10 best clubs -- a modest accomplishment, perhaps, but enough to paper over the stain of much that came before.
An organization built on pitching thrived in the second half, from Jacob deGrom's routine dominance to Syndergaard's four-hitter in Sunday's finale. Offensively, Michael Conforto broke out after the All-Star break. Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario and Jeff McNeil established themselves as capable everyday players. Jay Bruce began to resemble past versions of himself.
None of it was enough to save the Mets, who were out of contention by late June. But together, it was at least enough to instill some hope for a better tomorrow.
"I feel like we played some really good baseball," Syndergaard said.
Sunday's finale offered one last note of confidence for the Mets. Completing his first six innings in just 58 pitches, Syndergaard did not allow a man into scoring position until the eighth. The Mets' lone run against Sandy Alcantara came around to score on Todd Frazier's RBI double in the fourth, and that was all Syndergaard needed, dispatching the Marlins in the ninth for his second complete game of the season.
The effort dropped New York's second-half rotation ERA to 2.97, best in the Majors. They know that starting pitching alone will not carry them next summer. They know they must plug a leaky bullpen, perhaps add a starting position player and certainly some depth. But they also know that the base for success is there.
Callaway offered a version of that message to his team following Sunday's victory, before the Mets dispersed to their offseason homes.
"I thanked them for continuing to play hard all season," Callaway said. "I also reminded them that we didn't get to where we wanted to go, and that we have to have the best offseason as an organization, and as individual players, as we possibly can, to put ourselves in a position where we can make it to the playoffs and further. I expect all of them to have the best offseason they've ever had, and come back next year ready to go."
•Reyes likely ends Mets career with groundout, cheers
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Season complete: With his 101st and final pitch of the season, Syndergaard induced a lineout from Marlins first baseman Peter O'Brien -- the same man who earned the scorn of Citi Field after catching David Wright's foul pop in his last at-bat on Saturday. The play capped Syndergaard's second complete game and first shutout.
"It was just a good way to finish on a high note," Syndergaard said.
The Mets won consecutive 1-0 games for the first time since a doubleheader in Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, 1969. Pitchers Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell drove home the only runs for the Mets in those two games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Syndergaard ended his season with one last feat of strength, snapping his bat on a swing and a miss in the third inning. He later singled for one of the Mets' four hits.
HE SAID IT
"I'm the manager of the Mets and I want what's best for the Mets at every point. I felt like I worked as hard as I could every day. If they want to make a change and it's better for the Mets, then I'll be on board with it. That's just the honest truth. I'm going to work my tail off every single day to make this the best organization I can, and that's all I can do. And I'll support this team for the rest of my life because I was part of it. That's just how I feel about it, because I put a lot of time and effort into these guys. I believe in them, and I believe they can get something special done." -- Callaway, on his job status
The Mets will open next season March 28, 2019, in Washington. Callaway has already announced that deGrom will be the Opening Day starter.