PHILADELPHIA — In their private, off-camera moments, during the lower points of this season, Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson probably felt just like everyone else who lives and dies with the Mets’ fortunes.
Maybe this just isn’t our year.
Too many injuries. Too much bad luck. Last year’s giddy romp to the World Series became a fading, distant memory. Too good to be true. And this new reality, littered with broken pitchers, even a fractured captain, was a daily struggle. Their reward? Too often, it was another injury they weren’t supposed to overcome.
“Believe me, those thoughts went through our minds,” Collins said before Game No. 161 against the Phillies. “Mine included.”
Go on, admit it. At some point, you gave up. We did, too.
For whatever reason, the Mets wouldn’t. And after a six-week, grueling climb back from oblivion — an accomplishment we never saw coming — those same Mets celebrated on the mound Saturday at Citizens Bank Park as the top wild card in the National League after beating the Phillies, 5-3.
So it wasn’t the NL East title everyone predicted back in April, before the Mets’ roster slowly began to crumble, the pieces coming apart inexplicably and without mercy. So what? Despite the division slipping away to the Nationals, Alderson and Collins were determined to find a way to the wild card, to assemble enough replacements to make that happen. Plenty of teams try to do the same thing. The Mets made it happen.
They did it by plucking James Loney from the Padres’ Triple-A club when Lucas Duda was lost. They did it by taking a chance on a remorseful Jose Reyes when David Wright left a void at third base.
And those were just some of the key additions from outside the organization. Alderson had to buttress his sagging rotation, missing three-fifth of its stars, by taking a flier on untested call-ups from Las Vegas, hoping that the PCL crucible might prepare them for the bright lights at Citi Field. What else could the Mets do?
On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. But this desperate formula, this shuffling of retreads and below-radar talent, meshed together. Asdrubal Cabrera and Reyes immediately clicked, Loney was just good enough at first base, Rene Rivera repaired a hole behind the plate the Mets never figured would be there. Jay Bruce, when it counted most, showed us he wasn’t Jason Bay.
This team grew to be greater than the sum of its parts. Its strength became a quality that couldn’t be measured by statistical analysis. And even though the manager repeatedly tried to tell us that along the route, as the Mets were digging out of that 5 1⁄2-game deficit in mid-August, we were too skeptical to buy in. Until they had to prove it again Saturday, when Loney put the Mets ahead to stay with a two-run homer in the fifth inning, then dropped the bat like it was a microphone on stage.
“If you’re going to play in our town, you better have heart and you better have character to play in New York City,” Collins said. “You’re going to get knocked down and you better be able to get back up. And I think we did that.”
Collins, now in his sixth year, speaks from experience. No one absorbs more punches on a daily basis than the Mets manager, simply because no one else faces the media twice a day. This season, he’s had to explain more of what went wrong than right. But at the end of Saturday’s win, Collins proudly watched his players celebrate from behind the third-base line, waiting to congratulate them when they headed for the dugout.
After all the corks popped in the clubhouse, and many of the players went out to the field to party with what looked like hundreds of Mets’ fans in the seats, Alderson stood at the top of the stairs to shake their hands when they returned. Every one of them. Because this surprising playoff trip doesn’t happen without all of them.
“It’s just great to see the team this year accomplish as much as it did,” Alderson said, “with as many obstacles placed in its path as they had to negotiate.”
There’s more ahead. Either the Cardinals or Giants on Wednesday at Citi, followed by the Cubs after that. But we’re through doubting what these Mets can do.