The sight of Ruben Tejada in a walking boot, using a cane during Monday night's introductions, was a harsh reminder of the permanent damage Chase Utley had done to the Mets for however long this playoff run lasts. But the most important thing, as they prepared for Game 3, was to make sure it continues. Eliminating the Dodgers, not hurting them, would serve as their vengeance.
So the Mets gathered Monday afternoon inside their Citi Field batting cage, a few feet away from the clubhouse, and plotted a course of action. Despite Matt Harvey's veiled threats Sunday, the cryptic language about "doing what's right" for his teammates, the Mets wanted to let each other know they had bigger goals than retaliation. The message?
"What's done is done," Yoenis Cespedes said through his interpreter. "We wanted to go out with the mentality to win. And that's how we would kind of get back [at them] for him."
There is no sweeter revenge, of course, than victory, and the Mets not only beat the Dodgers in Game 3, they humiliated them, 13-7, to move within one win of the NLCS.
The mindless act of purposely drilling someone with a pitch, an eye-for-eye swap, couldn't possibly compare to the unblemished joy the Mets experienced with their fans Monday night at Citi Field, which housed the largest crowd (44,276) in the stadium's seven-year history.
"We knew going in it was going to be loud, it was going to be a lot of energy," Terry Collins said afterward. "The response when our guys came on the field was unbelievable."
Utley, familiar with the villain's role during his All-Star tenure with the despised Phillies, received the negative greeting everyone expected in his return to Citi, this time after brutalizing Tejada. His name brought forth an enthusiastic round of boos -- and his stoic face was kept on the Citi Field video board for an extra few moments, just to prolong the abuse.
After eight meaningless Octobers, finally we had a game of substance on Columbus Day, and yet still had to be reminded that this should be about the baseball -- not a potential steel-cage match between the Mets and Dodgers in this NLDS.
During the previous 48 hours, that part was easy to forget. Since Utley's savage takeout slide cracked Tejada's right fibula late Saturday night in Los Angeles, we had been consumed by the fallout: the specter of retaliation and the stunning two-game suspension handed down by Joe Torre on the eve of Game 3.
But the Mets emphatically steered everyone back on track by thumping the Dodgers, and Utley never showed his face again after the intros. He didn't start Game 3 because of what Don Mattingly called "baseball reasons," and by the fourth inning, no one really seemed to care that much anyway.
By then, the Mets and their playoff-starved fan base were having too much fun. They had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to surge ahead with a relentless attack that eventually broke Brett Anderson, the weak link in the Dodgers' playoff rotation.
Travis d'Arnaud homered in the third inning and Cespedes followed in the fourth with a 431-foot blast that landed in the second deck in leftfield. As Cespedes rounded the bases, the crowd began with "M-V-P" chants and soon shifted to booming cries of "We want Ut-ley!" But the taunting felt more playful than angry. The party was in full swing, and the fans -- after seething over the Tejada injustice -- had switched to celebration mode.
It was a welcome transition. Torre's Sunday ruling, whether you agreed with the suspension or not, nudged us away from the fascination with revenge. And with Utley still eligible to play because of his appeal, Mattingly kept him out of the Citi crosshairs by sticking with Howie Kendrick as his starting second baseman for Game 3.
The Mets also showed a willingness to turn the page rather than engage in any further payback rhetoric. Drilling a Dodger was not going to heal Tejada any faster, and the Mets didn't want to lose sight of the greater goal here, as Collins reiterated before the game.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, in attendance at Citi Field, agreed with the Mets' manager. Manfred took the unusual step of sitting down with Collins and Mattingly before Game 3 to stress the importance of simply playing baseball instead of the extracurricular stuff. Manfred, a first-year commissioner, didn't want anything further to detract from the playoffs.
"We decided to do it out of an abundance of caution," he said, "because we want the focus to be on a nice, clean game on the field."
The Mets, though furious after seeing Tejada carted off Saturday night, had cooled down once they arrived at Citi Field. After Monday's batting practice, David Wright took a few minutes to hold court in an effort to get that message across.
"Ruben will be in our thoughts and hopefully we can rally behind that," he said. "It's time to move forward."
Apparently, the Mets were ready to follow the captain's lead. Now it's just a matter of how far forward they intend to go, and former Ward Melville star Steven Matz will get the chance Tuesday night to pitch them into the NLCS.
Who's got time for revenge?