NEW YORK — An hour after ending their 101-win season with a 6–0 loss to the Padres in a decisive Game 3 of the National League wild-card series, the Mets played pool. They drank Corona and Bud Heavy and as they signed jerseys for each other. Pending free agents teased each other about how much money they would make. First baseman Pete Alonso walked through the clubhouse in cowboy boots and a black leather jacket. “Dammit, Peter!” Francisco Lindor complimented him. Game 3 starter Chris Bassitt joked he would spend the rest of the night there. Game 2 starter Jacob deGrom, who has said he plans to opt out of his contract this winter, spoke with reliever David Peterson about deGrom’s poor texting etiquette. If there were tears, they were dry before media were allowed to enter.
“I’ve been through it a lot now,” said reliever Adam Ottavino, who has played – and lost – in four postseasons with the Rocky MountainsThe YankeesThe red socks and now the Mets. “This wasn’t the most damaged team I’ve been on, because it’s kind of early in the process. We didn’t get that close to tasting the finish line.”
It was a surprising loss in some ways: All those 101 wins, second most in franchise history, bought New York was a chance to get knocked out by the Padres with 89 wins in 27 innings. On October 6th, the Mets appeared to be a World Series contender. Three days later, they packed their lockers.
But in other ways, they had begun to mourn this team a week earlier. Needing to win just one game against Atlanta to clinch all of the NL East and receive a National League Division Series bye, the Mets were swept. DeGrom allowed three runs in six innings, Game 1 starter Max Scherzer four in 5 ⅔ and Bassitt four in 2 ⅔. New York scored a total of seven runs.
“Honestly, I think on Monday we knew it was a long shot to win the division up to that point,” center fielder Brandon Nimmo said this weekend. “But we were going to give it everything we had and finish the season strong.”
They won their last three games, but looked lackluster once the wild-card series began. San Diego chased Scherzer in Game 1 with seven runs in 4 ⅔ innings, his worst playoff performance in nearly a decade. DeGrom managed six innings in Game 2 despite losing faith in his four-pointer, and the lineup mustered enough hits to force a Game 3.
But Bassitt went just four innings Sunday, and Padres starter Joe Musgrove pitched a no-hitter into the fifth. he so completely destroyed New York that manager Buck Showalter asked the umpires in the sixth inning to test him for illegal substances. The referees, after a thorough review which included the bizarre scene of a grown man rubbing another man’s ear, in the workplace, on national television, allowed Musgrove to go ahead. The intermission did nothing to change the fortunes of the two teams. With winter approaching, the Mets have produced just one hit.
“I think maybe the nature of the loss was 6-0,” Ottavino said. “Definitely everyone thought we were going to win tonight in here, but just the nature of the loss – we just won. 6–0. It wasn’t a shocking shocking.” He added, “We had a lot ahead of us even if we won tonight.”
Indeed, a win would send them to Los Angeles to play the juggernaut Dodgers in the five-game NLDS, and to do so having burned their top three starters in the wild-card round. At most, the Mets would hope for one start from each. They made it clear how bad they thought their chances were when they openly messed with their starting rotation against the Padres — if they won Game 1 behind Scherzer, they decided, they’d start Bassitt in Game 2 in hopes they could sweep and to have deGrom available for Games 1 and 5 of the NLDS.
They never got that far. Instead, the season ended with something like the sound of air escaping from a balloon. Ottavino called it a “missed opportunity” and Alonso said he was as disappointed about the team’s “breakup” as he was about the loss. The roster will look different in 2023. DeGrom declined Sunday to discuss his plans for next year, but the Mets are probably no more likely than any other team to employ him. Bassitt and the team have a mutual option. Closer Edwin Díaz is a free agent, as is Ottavino, who emerged as the leadoff hitter. So does Nimmo.
“We just have a great roster,” Otavino said. “It’s going to be hard to duplicate next year.”
The Mets will have plenty of time this winter to wonder if GM Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen could have done more at the trade deadline. Red Sox DH JD Martinez or Cubs catcher Willson Contreras could have bolstered a lineup that lacked power. New York instead acquired outfielders Darin Ruf from the Giants and Tyler Naquin from the Reds along with DH Daniel Vogelbach from the Pirates. Vogelbach played well in the regular season, but went 0-for-the series. Naquin had a .636 OPS after the trade and Ruf hit .152 with zero home runs.
This team could have been special. Instead, it was just another disappointment in Queens.
“It’s kind of like, yeah, we’ve got to get better,” Lindor said. “It kind of has to be [hold your head up]. I guess this is our fate. It stops here.”
The Mets were almost good enough, but not quite. And they knew it.
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