PHILADELPHIA - The pain was excruciating. Both on the face of Yoenis Cespedes, laying in the dirt, clutching his left hand and the many, many others watching from home, fearing this dream season for the Mets had suddenly taken a terrible detour.
Lose Cespedes? Just nine days away from the team's first playoff appearance in nine years? The possibility was just too cruel to process during those minutes of seeing Cespedes helped off the field, and the hour that everyone had to wait to hear the extent of the damage.
Justin De Fratus was about to live in Mets' infamy as the pitcher -- from the despised Phillies, no less -- who single-handedly torpedoed their chance at October glory. It was a De Fratus fastball that struck Cespedes on the lower half of his left hand, so close to the bat's knob that plate umpire Bob Davidson initially ruled it a foul ball.
But the Mets' didn't need a video review to tell them what Cespedes' agonized expression conveyed. He was hurting, badly, and had to be helped off the field by the trainer, Ray Ramirez.
From there, Cespedes was ushered to the on-site X-ray machine at Citizens Bank Park, and only then could the Mets exhale again. The results were negative -- no sign of a break -- and the team's official diagnosis called the injury a contusion of his ring and middle fingers.
"That's always a scary place where he got hit," Terry Collins said after the Mets' 7-5 loss. "We were very relieved he was OK."
And thankful, too, that the pitch was only an 89-mph fastball, because who knows if a few more ticks of velocity would have fractured those fingers rather than bruise them. That's the razor-thin margin the Mets are living on at the moment, so close to the playoffs and yet so maddeningly far away.
Wednesday's game lasted an excruciating 3 hours, 59 minutes, and when it was over, the Mets were so ready to move on, most of them had left the clubhouse by the time Cespedes was ready to speak to the media.
That included bullpen coach Ricky Bones, who usually serves as Cespedes' interpreter, so a team spokesman cobbled together a few statements from him, to the extent that Cespedes wasn't too scared at the time, despite the obvious pain. So the captain filled in a few blanks.
"It hurts to get hit -- it's not fun," David Wright said. "But all in all, I think we came out of it OK."
Barely. The Mets probably would prefer to just fast forward to next Friday, with a coin flip to decide home-field advantage. They aren't much in the mood to play out the string after seeing their players wind up in the Philly crosshairs during Wednesday night's brief beanball exchange. Collins was anxious enough before the game began, and that was when he only had Steven Matz's stiff back to worry about.
"Thought it was going to be easy after the clinch, didn't you?" Collins told an office full of reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Didn't the Mets already have enough problems? Being forced to scratch Matz not once, but twice due to the sleeping-related back discomfort? And during the time Cespedes was being examined, Wilmer Flores also was removed from the game because of what the Mets described as back stiffness. "It's the first time I've heard of it," Collins said.
After that, the night actually got worse. Turns out the Cespedes drilling was only the beginning. Kirk Nieuwenhuis also was plunked in the middle of his back, and the two benches were warned after Logan Verrett nailed Odubel Herrera in the fifth inning.
That didn't stop things from escalating, however. Hansel Robles later flipped Cameron Rupp with a 94-mph fastball.
This was the kind of nonsense the Mets can't be dragged into during this final week. They have everything at stake -- the Phillies have zero.
Survive and advance. That should be the Mets' motto over these last few days. We just never expected the meaning to be so literal.