CINCINNATI - His work day done at 62/3 innings and 97 pitches, Matt Harvey walked off the mound at Great American Ball Park Saturday to chants of "Har-vey, Har-vey!" from Mets fans behind the third-base dugout.
Harvey departed with a five-run lead. The Mets were seven outs away from clinching their first NL East crown since 2006 -- unless the Nationals lost to the Phillies before the Mets could put away the Reds.
As it turned out, Washington went into extra innings and the Mets got to earn it on their own. When Jeurys Familia struck out Jay Bruce at 7:08 p.m., the Mets had a 10-2 win and were in the playoffs for the first time since Carlos Beltran's bat stayed on his shoulder in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
"We didn't want to wait until tomorrow," Harvey said. "We didn't want to wait until Philly. This was probably the most important game of the year for us. I wanted to be out there more than anything . . . Pretty crazy day for all of us."
And a pretty crazy, but ultimately pretty amazing, regular season. "This is the best day of my baseball career, by far," said Harvey, who allowed two runs in his 13th win. "We're here to stay. We're here to do this more often."
The Harvey innings-limit drama that exploded just before Labor Day ended up costing the Mets nothing. That's a credit to Terry Collins for managing the situation (even though his exasperation was so thick you could cut it with a knife), to Harvey's teammates, and to the Nationals for being a complete disaster.
Still, the Mets let Harvey pitch into the seventh -- at his insistence, according to Collins, who said Harvey came to him earlier in the week to say he wanted to buck the innings limits and throw 100 pitches Saturday to get ready for the playoffs.
It was Harvey's agent, Scott Boras, who said the Mets would be putting the Dark Knight "in peril" by letting him pitch more than 180 innings. He's now at 1831/3, with one shortened start remaining in the regular season and perhaps a long postseason.
Perhaps Harvey really is Batman and he is putting himself (and his future mega-earnings) in jeopardy to save Gotham.
"It was going to have to be his decision," Sandy Alderson said. "But when he said that's what he wanted to do, I was proud of him, actually, because he made his own decision."
As the innings mounted Saturday, was Alderson ignoring frantic calls from Boras and cackling like the Joker? After all, Saturday was -- this is not made up -- National Batman Day.
"We're on our way to October," Harvey said. "I'm going to be out there. I'm going to be fighting every time I get the ball."
And when will that be? How about Game 1 of the NLDS vs. the Dodgers? "We just won," Harvey said. "I'm not thinking about that right now. We're enjoying this day as a team."
What the Mets do with Harvey in the postseason is one of the few dramas the team has heading into the playoffs.
You want to get worked up about home-field advantage or Juan Uribe's chest injury or whether Logan Verrett or Sean Gilmartin makes the roster? Feel free. But the Mets are as issue-free as a team can be.
"We're excited where we are right now," Harvey said. "Everybody's clicking on all cylinders."
Lucas Duda -- first-inning grand slam, 10 RBIs in the last two games -- probably wishes the playoffs started Sunday. Captain David Wright, who missed most of the summer with a serious back condition, put the cherry on top with a three-run homer in the ninth.
It's a great time to be a Mets fan, which we all know is not the easiest job in the world. You have waded through miles of muck and mire to get to this point, when you can sip champagne and hug your pals.
"It's a great accomplishment and hopefully a lot more to come," said champagne-drenched team COO Jeff Wilpon. "This is step one. So let's keep going."
There will be plenty of time to dissect the matchup with the Dodgers and plot the pitching order and figure out how Harvey fits into it. For now, do what the Mets did on the field and in the clubhouse (and back on the field again with the few thousand fans that remained and in the clubhouse a second time and then probably very deep into the Cincinnati night).
Celebrate. Light up a victory cigar. They earned it. So did you.