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Mets close season optimistic for next year

Duda drives in four, Colon wins 15th as NY finishes second in NL East

NEW YORK -- During the ninth inning of the Mets' season-ending 8-3 win over the Astros on Sunday, moments before they officially earned their first second-place finish since 2008, Matt Harvey shuffled over to Terry Collins in Citi Field's home dugout. The embodiment of why this season went awry for the Mets, Harvey looked his manager in the eyes.

"We're going to do it next year," he said.

Relaying the story minutes later, Collins added: "He doesn't lie to me."

It was more than a year ago that Harvey emerged from an MRI tube in Manhattan, setting the Mets on their current path. Testing that day revealed a partially torn ligament in Harvey's right elbow. He underwent surgery. The Mets lost their best pitcher and -- though they shied away from admitting it at the time -- their greatest chance at a quick return to playoff glory.

They fought anyway. They propped themselves up by signing Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon at the Winter Meetings, trumpeting those players as cogs in their long-awaited salvation. But the thought lingered that without Harvey, their fate had already been cast.

In reality, to pin the Mets' sixth consecutive losing season on Harvey's injury would be to dismiss all context. Had Harvey been healthy, the Mets might never have discovered rookie Jacob deGrom, who spent most of the summer putting up Harvey-like numbers. Even Harvey may not have been able to change the luck of New York, which finished as the league's only sub-.500 team that scored more runs (629) than it allowed (618).

His absence simply represented the top of a not-consistently-downward spiral, which ended Sunday at Citi Field. Colon's six innings of three-run ball made him a 15-game winner at age 41, a feat unto itself. Lucas Duda's career-high 89th and 90th RBIs put the Mets ahead for good, before his 30th homer iced the victory. Bobby Abreu's 2,470th and final career hit was a nice moment for the 34,897 who filtered in and out of the park on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon. The day's highlight, a two-hit effort by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve to seal the American League batting title, was not nearly enough to send the Mets to defeat.

"It was a good ending to a tough year," said Collins, whose team finished tied with Atlanta for second place in the NL East. "We certainly are looking forward to 2015. Every guy in that room is going to dedicate himself, I know, this winter."

Collins pinched his thumb and forefinger together.

"We talked about being this close," he said. "We're this close. Now we've just got to get over the top."

For now, the Mets head into winter as a 79-win team -- their highest total since 2008, but still far from general manager Sandy Alderson's preseason hope of 90. As they have throughout the month of September, the Mets received enough contributions from varied sources Sunday -- two-hit games by Matt den Dekker and Wilmer Flores, a season-capping effort by Duda, spotless relief innings from Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia -- to look toward next season with genuine optimism.

So why not keep those beer mugs, soda cans and water bottles half-full? The Mets will have Harvey back next year, even if his effectiveness remains to be determined. They will add him to a rotation that should also include deGrom and Zack Wheeler, who both took massive steps forward this summer. The Mets' lineup will include a healthy David Wright and perhaps a rejuvenated Granderson, in addition to the power bat they hope to add this winter.

"A lot of individual guys, and us as a team, have finished on such a strong note that we have some momentum going into the offseason," Wright said. "Hopefully that carries over into Spring Training."

Of course, as Duda put it, "we're not where we need to be or want to be." Unexpected issues can and will surface. Injuries will occur. Players will falter. But the Mets feel, for the first time in years, that they have amassed enough skill and potential to thrive regardless of what happens.

"I think we're capable of doing that," Alderson said. "I think we have a lot of potential for growth within the group of players that we currently have."

Last September, the Mets were supposed to head into the winter feeling genuine optimism for the first time in a half-decade. Harvey's injury changed all that, delaying that feeling until right now.

"There are clearly going to be higher expectations for this team next year," a reporter told Collins on Sunday morning, attempting to launch into a question about them.

"Mm-hmm," Collins said, cutting him off. "And there should be."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
Read More: New York Mets, Bobby Abreu, Christian Colon