The World Series -- the entire season itself -- had pulled and stretched at the fiber of the Mets. It pushed every boundary. It strained the limits of the imagination. It allowed a tortured fan base to dream again, even if the end brought a bitter nightmare.

Perhaps this is why, with the pain still fresh from a 7-2 loss in Game 5 that gave the Royals the World Series championship, the Mets embraced. For a moment, the gloom of the losing clubhouse at Citi Field gave way to hugs and handshakes and even a few smiles.

It had been a wild ride, unexpected by most, that sent the Mets to the National League pennant. Now, at its error-filled end, the pressure had left their emotions scrambled. They found themselves conflicted -- celebrating all they had accomplished while mourning all they had lost.

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"It hurts and it stings," captain David Wright said. "We're going to hang our heads for a little bit. But when we look back at this days and weeks from now, it will put a smile on our face."

There will be time for perspective. The winter will pass, the spring will come, and the memories of this franchise's revival will warm the souls of even the most hardened.

But first there will be mourning.

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There will be tears for what might have been, agony for how close they came to greatness, misery for how it all fell apart at the end. The Mets couldn't get out of their own way.

This is what allowed the Royals to ascend to the championship for the first time since 1985. At precisely 12:34 a.m. Monday, Wilmer Flores struck out, ending a splendid summer for the Mets.

It comes, as all true heartache does, with a litany of what-ifs.

What if Terry Collins had gone with his gut and pulled a brilliant Matt Harvey instead of sending him out for the ninth?

What if Eric Hosmer had stayed on third base instead of breaking for home as the tying run?

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What if first baseman Lucas Duda had made an accurate throw to get Hosmer?

"A good throw, he's out," Collins said.

Instead, the Mets must live with this sobering reality. Three times in this World Series, they held a lead, just a handful of outs from winning the game. Three times they lost, with closer Jeurys Familia charged with a blown save each time.

"To come up a little short hurts," said second baseman Daniel Murphy, a free agent who might have played his last game with the Mets. "But it doesn't make you love the guy next to you any less."

Wright arrived at the brink of a championship after long years filled with pain and losing. Collins got here after 45 years in professional baseball. The Mets signaled their return after a financial scandal brought the club to its knees. Now they must wait through the winter to continue their chase of their first title since 1986.

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Electric only a few hours earlier, Citi Field emptied out, the fans forced to stomach an unfulfilling end.

The Royals entered the ninth inning trailing 2-0. Curtis Granderson hit a solo homer in the first inning, Duda lifted a sacrifice fly in the sixth and Harvey took care of the rest.

For eight innings, he hoisted the Mets on his shoulders, outdueling Edinson Volquez. As the Mets batted in the eighth, the 44,859 in attendance aimed their chants at the Mets' dugout.

"We want Har-vey!" they roared. "We want Har-vey!"

Collins obliged. Harvey sprinted back to the mound, the entire season left in his hands. When he walked Lorenzo Cain to start the inning, Collins didn't move, allowing his ace to continue. But for all of Harvey's heroics, and his desire to stay, this was a mistake.

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"I let my heart get in the way of my gut," Collins said.

Eric Hosmer ripped a run-scoring double to leftfield that silenced Citi Field and cut the Mets' lead in half. Harvey left to a rousing ovation with the tying run at second base as Familia jogged in from the bullpen. Mike Moustakas' grounder moved Hosmer to third base, setting the stage for heartbreak.

Salvador Perez hit a grounder to third that was fielded by Wright, who turned to freeze Hosmer at third. But when Wright threw, Hosmer broke for the plate, a move that was both risky and reckless.

"The way they run the bases, you can't be shocked by anything,'' Wright said. "I'm sure that even Hosmer would say it was probably a bit reckless. But when you seem to kind of get the breaks and when you play the game that way, sometimes things like that work out for you."

A good throw from Duda would have cut down Hosmer. A good throw would have sent the World Series back to Kansas City. A good throw would have allowed the Mets to escape their latest calamity. But Duda's throw sailed well to the right of catcher Travis d'Arnaud and went to the backstop. The Royals had tied it. A stunned Citi Field sat in silence.

"You've got to tip your hat to Hosmer there. It took some [guts] to do what he did," Duda said. "It was an outstanding read and I didn't make the throw . . . like I said, no excuses. It's on me."

The Royals exploded for five runs in the 12th to break open a tense game. Christian Colon, in his first postseason appearance, ripped a single to knock in the go-ahead run. Half of the Royals spilled onto the field in front of their dugout, their joy unrestrained.

Then, after an error by Murphy -- who had committed a costly error in Game 4 -- Alcides Escobar lined an RBI double and Cain added a three-run double. That was more than enough for the Royals.

The Mets again were burned by their shaky defense, a fact that haunted them in their pursuit of a championship. The Royals bullpen, a suffocating force all series, tossed six scoreless innings. The Mets managed only four hits in 12 innings.

"There were some mistakes that we made," Wright said. "But the Royals won this thing. They deserve this. They outplayed us."

The time had come to mourn. In the clubhouse, Wright thanked his teammates for turning a nightmare into a dream. He had not been to the postseason since 2006. And a back injury wrecked much of his season. Yet the Mets had won a pennant.

"It took awhile to get to the point where we kind of picked our heads up a little bit," Wright said.

When Wright caught wind that fans had lingered at Citi Field, he rounded up the Mets. They spilled out of the dugout and onto the field, offering a salute before retreating.

In the clubhouse, Yoenis Cespedes limped, his knee still in pain after a foul ball ended his night and perhaps his Mets career. The feelings, again, were conflicted.

"Everybody has to be proud in this room," Familia said. "Because when the season started, nobody believed that the Mets would be in [this] situation. Getting to the World Series and playing this game is amazing."