Mets Overcome a Season of Adversity and Claim a Wild-Card Berth


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Manager Terry Collins was showered with beer and bubbly in the clubhouse on Saturday after the Mets clinched a wild-card playoff spot.

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Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Mets Manager Terry Collins was in the middle of a television interview near the entrance to the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park when Jose Reyes dumped beer on his boss’s head.

“Thank you for bringing me back, man,” Reyes said, hugging Collins.

Reyes was not on the Mets’ roster when the season began. Neither was James Loney, nor Jay Bruce nor T. J. Rivera nor Seth Lugo nor Robert Gsellman. Saturday’s starter, Bartolo Colon, was supposed to have been in the bullpen by now.

Up and down that battered and patchwork roster, the Mets looked distinctly different from the team that won the National League East and reached the World Series last season. Yet there they were on Saturday afternoon after a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, celebrating a return to the postseason that seemed improbable six weeks ago.

“This year was harder for us to get in, even if it is to play only one game,” Colon said, his shirt wet with beer and Champagne.

With the victory, the Mets secured the top N.L. wild-card spot; they will host a win-or-go-home game on Wednesday at Citi Field against either the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants. It is only the second time in the Mets’ 55-year history that they have reached the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

To secure their berth, the Mets required 46 players, 87 wins, eight months and countless visits to the training room.

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James Loney slugged a two-run homer in the sixth inning that gave the Mets a 4-2 lead.

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Derik Hamilton/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

By winning on the penultimate day of the regular season, the Mets can save their best starter, Noah Syndergaard, who was originally scheduled to start on Sunday, for their biggest game of the year.

“It’s like every little kid’s dream come true to pitch in a high-stakes game,” Syndergaard said. “I’ll embrace it, and I look forward to it.”

Colon allowed two runs but provided five solid innings on Saturday. The bullpen, as it has often done during the late-season surge, completed the win. Loney smashed a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth and then dropped his bat and pointed to the Mets’ dugout in glee.

“You don’t script that,” said Loney, whom the Mets plucked from the San Diego Padres’ AAA affiliate in late May to fill the void left by an injury to first baseman Lucas Duda. “Your body just takes over. Those are the moments you dream of.”

Having to play a one-and-done game after a World Series appearance may seem disappointing, but not to a team that sustained so many significant injuries.

“A huge accomplishment,” said catcher Travis d’Arnaud, one of seven players from the Mets’ opening day lineup who spent time on the disabled list.

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Bartolo Colon pitched five innings for the Mets, giving up two runs and striking out six.

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Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The starting rotation, the backbone of the Mets last season, was hit the hardest. Zack Wheeler, who was supposed to have replaced Colon in the rotation, never joined the Mets in the season’s second half, as planned, because of setbacks in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Matt Harvey has not pitched since July 4. Jacob deGrom has not pitched since Sept. 1, and Steven Matz, who will have surgery next week, has not pitched since Aug. 14.

“Surprisingly, our greatest strength was deeper than we even expected that strength to have been,” Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson said.

In the far corner of the clubhouse, Gsellman and Lugo, the unheralded prospects who saved the rotation, posed together for a photo amid the revelry. Gsellman started the season at Class AA Binghamton. Lugo posted unimpressive numbers in Class AAA, and some scouts doubted that he would ever reach the majors.

Yet as deGrom and Matz succumbed to season-ending injuries, Lugo and Gsellman impressed everyone with their poise and their pitching. The Mets went 11-4 in games they started.

“There are no words to describe this feeling,” Gsellman said. “This is the first step to the playoffs. Hopefully, this is not our last time.”

The Mets were also missing second baseman Neil Walker, who has been out since Aug. 27, and the team’s captain, third baseman David Wright, who has not played since May 27. He was replaced by Reyes, who was released by the Colorado Rockies after serving a domestic violence suspension and was given a second chance by the Mets. Many players pointed to Reyes’s energy as a catalyst.

But so were the returns of Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes from injuries on Aug. 19. That day, the Mets lost to the Giants in San Francisco and fell to 60-62. They sat five and a half games out of the second wild-card spot. A feeling grew within the clubhouse that this was a doomed season.

But behind Cabrera, Cespedes and Reyes, the Mets started a hot streak. The once-struggling offense improved. Cabrera persevered despite a balky left knee.

“It wasn’t easy,” Cabrera said. “I gave my 100 percent — actually my 200 percent — to help the team win.”

Since the season’s low point in San Francisco, the Mets have been the best team in the majors, going 27-12, thanks in part to a soft September schedule.

“It’s great to see the team this year accomplish as much as it did with as many obstacles placed in its path,” Alderson said.

Roster moves throughout the season paid off. Although Bruce struggled for more than a month after the Mets acquired him in a trade on Aug. 1, he caught fire at the plate in late September. The already dominant relievers Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia received help from Fernando Salas, also acquired by trade.

“Sandy deserves so much credit,” Collins said. “He took a chance on Jose Reyes when nobody else would. He brought kids up from the minor leagues and stuck them in the rotation. He’s not afraid.”

As the celebration in the clubhouse died down, Alderson and the assistant general manager John Ricco sat in Collins’s office to talk. The preparation for Wednesday’s game had begun.

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