NEW YORK -- When the Nationals began pulling away from the rest of the National League East around midsummer, the Mets focused their sights on the Wild Card, considering it the most realistic avenue to defend the NL pennant. They also knew it was an imperfect avenue -- in one
NEW YORK -- When the Nationals began pulling away from the rest of the National League East around midsummer, the Mets focused their sights on the Wild Card, considering it the most realistic avenue to defend the NL pennant. They also knew it was an imperfect avenue -- in one game, anything can and often does happen.
So in the aftermath of their 3-0 loss to the Giants on Wednesday night in the NL Wild Card Game, the Mets tried to focus less on those nine innings -- Madison Bumgarner was excellent, Jeurys Familia was not -- and instead on the two months that preceded them. From the depths of a broken season, their roster decimated by injuries, the Mets mustered a playoff berth. That was something worth applauding.
"They're hurting, but there's no reason to be," manager Terry Collins said. "I mean, they were written off so many times this summer, and yet they kept fighting back."
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Over the first five months of the season, the Mets lost three-fifths of their starting rotation and three-quarters of their starting infield while pushing past less significant aches for nearly every member of their roster. General manager Sandy Alderson crumpled up most of the plans he'd sketched out over the offseason. Collins improvised.
But it worked. Relying on contributions from such unheralded rookies as Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and T.J. Rivera, and players who weren't in the organization in March, including José Reyes and René Rivera, the Mets pressed onward toward a playoff berth. And on the penultimate day of the regular season, they clinched one, convinced it was the product of hard work and chemistry and all those age-old baseball clichés.
Then it all unraveled in nine scoreless innings.
"It's just one game," said Wilmer Flores, one of the Mets' injured many. "You can't tell how good of a team it is by one game. That's how the Wild Card works. But we're better than that."
Considering how abruptly the one-game Wild Card format ends one team's season, it's often difficult for those clubs to find perspective in the aftermath of a loss. But the Mets had little trouble, some of them acknowledging that they never expected to play an Oct. 5 game in front of 44,747 screaming, orange towel-waving fans.
When asked to characterize the 2016 Mets, Flores used the words "a lot of battle, a lot of fighting." But a better description might have been "beleaguered," considering the injuries to star players David Wright, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and so many others. The list goes on. But the Mets worked through all that, forging a new identity.
The sadness in their postgame clubhouse was less about what they left unaccomplished and more about the notion that this group will not remain intact. Outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, who also could not avoid injury this summer, is likely to opt out of his contract next month. (Cespedes declined comment on his situation after the game.) Walker is a free agent with questions surrounding his health. Such role players as Kelly Johnson may also be gone.
"We feel very good about this group," Reyes said. "Hopefully, I'll be here next year, because next year's going to be even better."
In time, the Mets will answer those roster questions. On Wednesday, they were still stinging from a loss that eclipsed so many of the wins that came before it.
"I mean, it's human nature," Collins said. "They're baseball players. They were here to win, they wanted to win. They're down, but they shouldn't be, because there's only a few teams that could have come back under the circumstances we came back on. I'm really proud of them."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.