But the caliber of the competition changes when you reach the World Series. In this case, the whole nature of the competition changes. The power-hitting Cubs were an all-or-nothing proposition against the Mets, much closer to nothing than all by the end of it.
Here in the Fall Classic, though, the Mets drew the American League's best, the Kansas City Royals, a team loaded with contact hitters, a team that leads both leagues in fewest strikeouts, a supremely sound defensive team, and a club with a terrific bullpen.
With the quality starting pitching the Mets have, this promised to be an exceptional match. Game 1 on Tuesday night proved that premise. It took 14 innings to settle this argument, only the third time a World Series game has gone this long. The Royals finally prevailed, 5-4.
The Royals were informed before the game that the father of starting pitcher Edinson Volquez had died. Volquez learned of the death after the game, in which he provided six solid innings of work. Chris Young, whose own father had passed away just before the end of the regular season, said that when he sees Volquez next, "I will give him a hug and tell him this is his baseball family. We're there for him and we love him."
Volquez, in turn, was grateful for the Royals' support and the victory. He sent a text to shortstop Alcides Escobar, who led off the game with an inside-the-park home run and scored the winning run in the 14th. The text from Volquez, Escobar reported, said: "Thank you guys for winning the game for me and my family."
Apart from the shared sadness the Royals felt, the game itself had many of the elements that have carried them a considerable distance this year. After the quality start from Volquez -- three runs allowed -- six Kansas City relievers gave up just one unearned run over the next eight innings. Young, who would have been pressed into service had Volquez not been able to start, pitched three hitless innings to get the victory.
The only aberration came in the Mets' eighth, when Eric Hosmer, Gold Glove first baseman, had a grounder skip off his glove for an error that led to a run and a 4-3 New York lead.
"No excuses," Hosmer said. "That's a play I have to make."
Alex Gordon tied the game in the ninth with a one-out homer off Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who had previously been untouchable in the postseason.
This created the eventual opening, in the bottom of the 14th, for Hosmer to get a shot at some serious redemption. He came up with the bases loaded and nobody out and delivered a sacrifice fly deep enough to right to score Escobar with the winning run.
"I was extremely happy to get another chance to win the game for our team," Hosmer said. "You just have to tip your cap to everybody. The bullpen, guys coming in doing their jobs. Esky starting it off, Zobey [Ben Zobrist] hitting doubles all night. I was just thankful to get another opportunity."
The Royals had trailed 3-1 in the sixth, but this kind of thing is a day at the office for them. In a highly competitive Division Series against Houston, they trailed in all five games, but came back to win three of them.
This was an epic struggle that went on for five hours, nine minutes officially. But it demonstrated the best of what the Royals have to offer, including the will and the skill to come back, and the kind of bullpen depth that can seem impossible to beat.
"It was a great night," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Two things you don't want in Game 1 of the World Series: One is to go 14 innings and the other is to lose.
"To find a way to grind that game out against a great team, both teams were matching pitch for pitch. We had opportunities; they'd make big pitches and get out of innings. But to grind through that game and to win it in the 14th inning was big."
The Royals were impressed by the Mets, particularly their pitching. But the Mets also had some eyes opened. This wouldn't be anything like a repeat of the NLCS, where their pitching dominated via the strikeout. That shouldn't happen here. In the 80 innings they had pitched in this postseason, Mets pitchers had struck out 91 batters. Here, in 14 innings, they struck out seven.
The Cubs were loaded with tremendous young talent. But the Royals, in their second straight World Series, expect to win everything right now.