Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

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

Stuff happens, in baseball as in life. The trick is to give yourself the best odds possible as fate tosses you to and fro.

For example: When the fragile gem of your batting order has a bothersome left hamstring on April 20, perhaps the wise course would be to rest him until, say, May 1.

But no. The Mets’ early season free fall into last place has been exacerbated by unforced errors on and off the field, none more shocking than the one that led to Yoenis Cespedes being helped off the field against the Braves on Thursday.

Turns out that a visit to the new 10-day disabled list after a hammy problem surfaced last week might have been a better idea than a five-day, three-game break, followed by a return to action Wednesday, followed by . . . well, a long rest looms.

“I don’t know anybody that comes back in 10 days looking like that walking off the field,” manager Terry Collins said.

Cespedes had rounded first base in the fourth inning of what became a 7-5 loss to the Braves when he limped into second base with a double. Shock and sadness ensued at Citi Field.

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Was he rushed back? It seemed so, perhaps with one eye on the deteriorating standings and another on a weekend trip to face the first-place Nationals.

This led to predictable postgame questions of Collins, including one about whether there were regrets about not putting Cepedes on the DL last week. “No, no, no,” he said.

Later, someone asked another question on that topic, and Collins had a longer, more exasperated answer.

“It’s easy to sit back today because he pulled a muscle and say, ‘Hey, look, he wasn’t ready to play,’ ” the manager said. “He did all the things that were required to get in the lineup . . . It just happens.

“It’s easy to say, ‘You should have put him on the DL.’ Well, you know what? Every time you turn around for every little thing you keep putting guys on the DL, we can’t run anybody out there. We gave him the five days off. What’s today, the nicest day we’ve had in stinking 10 days. So we had the warm weather. We had all the conditions that were necessary.

“The guy pulled a hamstring. He’s wound tight. I’m going to go with that. You can write all you want that well, we should have put him on the DL. Well, we didn’t, because we didn’t think it was necessary, because he said he was going to be able to play. Now he’s going to be out for a while.”

Other bad things happened against the usually hapless Braves, like, oh, let’s see . . . sending the lumbering Jay Bruce home to be thrown out easily by the powerful arm of Atlanta centerfielder Ender Inciarte. Or Matt Harvey bunting into a double play.

Let’s just say the optics were not good before a sparse (23,243) weekday afternoon audience. But no optic could be worse than the sight of Cespedes needing help to make it down the dugout steps.

The craziest thing about this entire mess is that it still is April! Rare is the team that can be as formidable on paper as the Mets were in March and be this bad this soon.

Collins addressed his players after the game and advised them there would be no excuses made, including about injuries. “No one cares,” he said. “[The Braves] don’t care. The Nationals won’t care. You [reporters] don’t care.”

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Everyone in a home uniform cared in the fourth inning, though.

“He’s our best hitter,” Bruce said of Cespedes. “Any time your best hitter’s not in the lineup, it changes it. It changes the dynamic of it. I think the most important thing is to have him healthy. We need him, and we don’t need him before he’s ready.”

Exactly.