Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

By the bottom of the 12th inning, Citi Field looked the way it has on too many nights in its seven-season history, row upon row of mostly empty seats occasionally interrupted by grumpy, frustrated fans.

Then those who remained observed one last kick in the gut early Monday: Poor, sweet, formerly teary Wilmer Flores ending it the same way the Mets ended their last postseason appearance in 2006 -- looking at strike three.

It was as if the morning after we turned back our clocks, someone had turned back the clock on the Mets to sometime in 2014, or any other year in the 2010s, or most of the years in the Mets' 54-season history.

StoryMets lose World Series after blowing late leadVoteMets 2017: Keep 'em or dump 'em?InteractiveWhere NY ranks among winningest sports cities

But no one who experienced the 2015 season -- on the field or off -- would mistake the dreary final scene in Game 5 of the World Series for the larger, truer picture.

The Mets did not complete their mission of winning the World Series for the third time. They did complete another important mission: keeping us entertained and re-establishing their relevance on the New York sports landscape.

That might not sound like much, but it is for the forever put-upon Mets.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Outside of the relatively small world of professional ice hockey, the past couple of years have been a challenge for New York's teams, with the Giants, Jets, Mets and Yankees all missing the playoffs in both 2013 and 2014.

The Yankees dipped their toes back into the postseason last month. (Have they gotten a hit off Dallas Keuchel yet, by the way? Just checking.) But the Mets dived into the deep end with a Bartolo Colon-sized cannonball leap.

In between questions about his decision to let Matt Harvey face two Kansas City batters in the ninth inning of Game 5, manager Terry Collins said afterward that he never has had more fun in his many years in baseball than he did in 2015.

@Newsday

Many of his players also sought to put a positive spin on it all while also lamenting the spectacularly ill-timed physical and mental mistakes that allowed the Royals to overcome three deficits in the eighth inning or later in this Series.

Some teams lose five-game playoff series and can just shrug and say the better team won. Others, such as the 2000 and 2015 Mets, are left shaking their heads over what might have been.

Which is pretty much the same conflicted state in which fans find themselves in the aftermath of a World Series that forever will be a part of Mets lore -- a lore that with two lonely exceptions requires pain and regret.

Exhibit A: Daniel Murphy, who was the best baseball player on Planet Earth for two rounds, then reverted to being . . . Daniel Murphy.

Yoenis Cespedes took a similar U-turn before him. Matt Harvey's powerful, persuasive personality was an asset until it turned into a liability. Jeurys Familia was the MVP of the team, then blew three saves in the Series -- only one of which could be blamed primarily on him.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

We could go on. But why not end where this run began three months ago, with Flores becoming a folk hero by wanting to remain a Met so badly that the thought of leaving made him weep.

His journey from there to strike three at 12:34 a.m. Monday covered the same emotional bases fans felt along with him.

There were tears of joy and sadness, sure, but the best part was that everyone finally cared enough again to experience both.