It has been a long time since 2006. After enduring two historic collapses, a Ponzi scheme, five consecutive losing seasons, and a roller coaster year that started with an anemic offense and has been mired by constant talk of innings limits, the New York Mets finally clinched the National League Eastern Division after beating the Cincinnati Reds 10-2 on Saturday to return to the postseason for the first time in nine years. This unlikely season was capped by a strong, six and two third inning performance by Matt Harvey, home runs by Curtis Granderson, a grand slam by Lucas Duda, and three run shot from the captain David Wright that put the game out of reach.

Thus ends what has been one of the wildest seasons in Mets’ baseball. In March, most were just hoping for a return to competitive baseball as the Washington Nationals seemed the hands-down favorite to win the division. An 11-game winning streak in early April seemed to indicate that something special was on the horizon. But injuries to Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Travis d’Arnaud, and Daniel Murphy led to an offensive pace that rivaled the 1962 team for worst in franchise history. While the starting rotation remained a strength of the team throughout the season thanks to the arrival of rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, a brilliant sophomore season from Jacob deGrom, and the steady hand of veteran Bartolo Colon, the bullpen suffered from the suspension of expected closer Jenrry Meija and injuries to Bobby Parnell and lefty Jerry Blevins, despite the breakout season from closer Jeurys Familia, who almost made the All-Star team and currently has 42 saves in 47 chances.

12009603_907794215979927_1886605149859309159_nThroughout the season, in spite of what was happening, the glue that held the team together was manager Terry Collins. Despite of having to field the equivalent of a minor league roster for most of June and July, he never gave up on his team, and he never allowed his players to give up on the season. As a result of his resolve and the ineptitude of the division leading Nationals, the Mets never completely fell out of the playoff picture, and continued to compete, holding out hope that general manager Sandy Alderson would eventually provide the team with much-needed reinforcements for the offense and the bullpen. Both Collins and Alderson came under constant scrutiny, with every mistake Collins made being followed by cries for his termination and replacement with fan-favorite Wally Backman, and Alderson having to deal with constant ridicule from the media for not providing Collins with a major league lineup and wasting one of the most talented pitching staffs in the majors.

The turning point came at the trading deadline. Alderson made his first moves by bringing in veteran role players Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson from the Atlanta Braves to provide a major league presence and some much-needed versatility, then traded for setup man Tyler Clippard from the Oakland A’s to provide the eighth inning man the Mets had lacked all season. With fans clamoring for a major bat to jump-start the offense, there was the now-infamous no-trade for Carlos Gomez, which fell through at the last-minute due to injury concerns, and led to maligned infielder Wilmer Flores crying on the field when he heard he had been traded. The Mets were the laughingstock of baseball in the aftermath, with the organization criticized for allowing Flores to continue playing and for not making the trade, which many felt was due to their reluctance to add payroll. After a gut-wrenching loss to the San Diego Padres the next day, after blowing a three run lead following a rain delay, it looked like the wheels were about to come off for the Mets and that the end of the season wasn’t too far behind.

But with time running out before the July 31st deadline, Alderson finally pulled the trigger and added his big bat in the form of outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, whose presence helped galvanize the Mets and lead to a 35-17 record since, including a 20-8 record in the month of August. He didn’t do it alone, as the return of d’Arnaud has seen the injury-riddled catcher become one of the best young backstops in the league, in addition to the return of Murphy and Wright, whose career was very much in doubt after suffering spinal stenosis in April, and the stabilizing presence of Curtis Granderson atop the lineup throughout the year. They pulled the rug out from under Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and the Nationals, who were never able to capitalize on the Mets shortcomings and provided an easy conquest after being virtually handed the division after the signing of Max Scherzer in February. After beating them six consecutive times since the end of July, the Mets proved who the best team in the East truly was.

The month of September was not without its own share of drama. Matt Harvey and his agent, Scott Boras, provided their own theatrics after Boras announced that he had expected his client to be shut down after he reached 180 innings in his first season back after Tommy John surgery and made many people question Harvey’s desire after he failed to put the talk to rest in his interview the next day. An eight game winning streak, including the three-game sweep of Washington should have made a Mets’ division win seem inevitable, but series losses to the Marlins, Yankees, and Braves began to conjure horrific images of 2007 and 2008 in the minds of most Met fans. It was fitting that Harvey was on the mound in Saturday’s win, and he seemed to make it known that he was going beyond a preset pitch count in this game, after being pulled after five innings in Sunday’s loss to the Yankees, and the bullpen blew the lead upon his exit. In Harvey’s interview after the win, he showed emotion and loyalty to his teammates that set most fears at ease, and gave hope that he will be a valued part of what looks to be a strong postseason run this season.

12046723_702835306483282_6604347174338245110_nIt was a great sight after the game had been won, to see Wright be able to return to the postseason as the only member of this team who had been with the organization since 2006. He has been through it all, from division champions, to losing in the NLCS that season, and living through the collapses of 2007 and 2008, and the dark days that have followed. Almost as deserving as Wright is Collins, who held the team together this year, and whose presence was just as important in leading them to the postseason as Cespedes has been in stabilizing the lineup. To see Daniel Murphy playing with his kids on the field after taking much ridicule for missing the first game of 2014 to be their when his child was born was a touching moment. And then to see the team come out of the dugout to celebrate with the many fans who made the trip to Cincinnati, showed how appreciative they are to those who have stuck by them for this wild ride. The truth is, while the fight for the division is now over, the ride has just begun. With a week left in the regular season, the Mets are expected to face the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs, with both teams still jockeying for home field advantage. The winner of that series will take on the best of, what is arguably the toughest division in baseball the NL Central, as the Wild Card game will be played between the Cubs and Pirates, with the winner facing the Cardinals. The Mets have finally exorcised the demons of 07 and 08, but now its up to them to finally exorcised the demons of 2006, as they could very well face the Dodgers and Cardinals this season, the same teams they faced that fateful season, that ended with an Adam Wainwright curveball that left Carlos Beltran looking. The time could finally be now for the Mets, as the magical season is only just getting started.

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