David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - David Wright watched yesterday's game from the bench, along with nearly every other Mets regular, aside from Michael Cuddyer and Ruben Tejada.
The lineup was similar to the one used by the Mets after last Saturday's NL East-clinching victory at Great American Ball Park, minus the champagne hangover. Despite the clear heads, the Mets still lost, 3-0, and were swept by the lowly Phillies.
For Wright, and the other spectators in uniform, the best thing said about the game was that it was played. The Phillies agreed to move up the first pitch to 12:05 p.m. to beat a rapidly advancing storm, and not a single drop fell from the gray sky during the lightning-quick. 2-hour, 23-minute matinee.
Also, none of the Mets wound up on the ground writhing in pain, as Yoenis Cespedes did the previous night after taking a fastball off the hand.
The team's mission these past few days has been twofold: protect home-field advantage for the division series against the Dodgers and stay healthy.
The Mets weren't all that successful at either one. But there is room for improvement in both areas during the regular season's final weekend at Citi Field against the Nationals. Weather permitting, of course.
"We had some games that were winnable, and it's easy to say, let's just kind of gear up for the playoffs," Wright said. "But home-field advantage would be nice. So I think that's something that we really need to bear down these last three games and try to attain.
"It also would be nice to get into the playoffs with some momentum. There's some things that we need to clean up, some things that we can do better."
True. But as Terry Collins stressed to his team before Thursday's game, they're already in the playoffs. Nothing can change that. The most important thing about the three-day stopover in Philly was for the Mets to get their rest after celebrating in Cincinnati, knowing they still had 27 innings or so left to reboot for the division series.
The list of dinged-up Mets seems to get longer by the day, even if it includes only minor bumps and bruises. Collins could have used a more representative lineup Thursday in trying to keep the home-field edge over the Dodgers, but the manger chose to take a longer view. The result was not ideal. But these Mets have bigger goals ahead.
"We can't worry about it," Collins said of the Phillies' sweep. "It's over."
The Mets had to scratch Steven Matz twice from this series and then relied on Sean Gilmartin to make his major- league starting debut Thursday. This weekend, they'll have Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom -- presumably with Matz piggybacking one of them Saturday or Sunday. Look for the regulars to play the first two games, with maybe a few innings in the finale as a playoff tuneup.
Of special interest will be the performance of Wright, whose daily maintenance for spinal stenosis has allowed him to be a productive mainstay in the lineup again. The Mets' protocol has been to sit him once every three or four days, and Wright enters this last weekend batting .292 with four homers, 13 RBIs and an .849 OPS in the 28 games since his Aug. 24 return.
"The good thing is I feel . . . consistent," Wright said, pausing for a moment to think of the right word. "It's been manageable. Terry's done a nice job of sticking to a schedule and that's kind of helped me. On a personal note, I'd like to play these final three, to try to feel good heading into next week."
This will be uncharted territory for Wright, who will have to navigate the long layoff between Sunday's last out and the first pitch of the division series. The preparation is key, and without his usual schedule, that could take some extra planning. Plus, there will be cross-country charter flights, another hurdle for someone with an aching back.
"We'll see," Wright said. "I haven't really done it, where I've had this amount of time to come back from. It would be good to stick to some kind of routine."
Opening at home probably would help, too. And for that to happen, Wright and the other front-line Mets need a more active role.