PHILADELPHIA — On the morning of Aug. 20, the Mets awoke in San Francisco with a 6.7-percent chance of making the playoffs, their lowest odds of the season. They had just dropped a pair of games to the Giants, with a potential win slipping away when they let brilliant ace Madison Bumgarner off the hook on a rare off night.
At 60-62, the time had come for choosing.
Over the next 43 days, the Mets salvaged their season, beginning with two wins against the Giants. Now the clubs will meet again Wednesday night at Citi Field, with Bumgarner facing Noah Syndergaard in the National League wild-card game.
“It was really important,” said Jose Reyes, recalling that series. “Because if we get swept in that series, we wouldn’t be in the situation that we’re in right now. When we went there, we weren’t playing too good as a team.”
Yoenis Cespedes hit three homers in the final two games of that pivotal August series and Syndergaard tossed eight scoreless innings in one of his best games of the season.
The two wins brought the Mets back to .500 and ignited a 27-12 stretch. “After I came back, the whole team collectively started to improve,” Cespedes said. “And that’s why we are where we’re at now.”
On Aug. 19, Cespedes returned from the disabled list along with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. After that, Cabrera hit .347 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs and Cespedes batted .259 with nine homers and 27 RBIs.
“We started to get our pieces back,” Terry Collins said. “We knew that. We had to hold it together while they were out, and we did. We didn’t win as many as we wanted, but we still competed. When we started getting our pieces back, we knew we were going to be OK.”
The reward for holding it together comes on Wednesday against the Giants, who survived a brutal second-half collapse that nearly cost them a spot in the postseason.
At the All-Star break, the Giants owned a 57-33 record, the best in all of baseball. But the bullpen fell apart, the lineup stopped hitting and they watched their playoff chances go from a virtual certainty to a coin flip as recently as a week ago.
Yet the Giants (87-75) beat the NL West champion Dodgers on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep and hold off the Cardinals. Despite going 30-42 after the All-Star break, the Giants — who won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — are back in the postseason after falling short last year.
“They’re a great team,” Collins said. “They had a rough second half, everybody knows that. But they’re very talented. I know they’re probably banged up a little bit like we are. But we had to work real hard to get in, we had to reach back inside so we could do it again.”
Collins and the coaching staff met with general manager Sandy Alderson on Sunday to begin formulating the roster for the wild-card game. They’re expected to carry 10 pitchers, giving them a few extra position players.
As for the starting lineup, club sources confirmed that the Mets’ only question mark is at first base. It will be one of their lefthanded hitters — James Loney or Lucas Duda. Loney is 2-for-13 against Bumgarner and Duda flied out in his only plate appearance against the lefty.
The Giants have won eight straight elimination games, the exact situation they face Wednesday. Bumgarner had a hand in the last two.
With PNC Park in Pittsburgh packed to capacity, he pitched the Giants to an 8-0 victory over the Pirates in the 2014 NL wild-card game with a four-hitter. The Giants next faced elimination in Game 7 of the World Series, when Bumgarner burnished his reputation as an October hero with five scoreless relief innings in a victory over the Royals.
In 88 1⁄3 postseason innings, the three-time world champion has a 2.14 ERA. He has done particularly well at Citi Field, where he’s 4-0 in four starts with a 0.62 ERA.
“Everyone knows what type of pitcher Bumgarner is,” said Cespedes, who is 3-for-10 against him. “But I think the field has the last word.”
The Mets will host the Giants Wednesday night, but home field has not been an advantage in the first four years of the wild-card game (home team in caps):
2012: St. Louis 6, ATLANTA 3
2013: PITTSBURGH 6, Cincinnati 2
2014: San Francisco 8, PITTSBURGH 0
2015:Chicago 4, PITTSBURGH 0
2012: Baltimore 5, TEXAS 1
2013:Tampa Bay 4, CLEVELAND 0
2014:KANSAS CITY 9, Oakland 8 (12 inn.)
2015: Houston 3, YANKEES 0