NEW YORK — An hour after their 101-win season ended 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 sipped on 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 sauntered through the clubhouse in cowboy boots and a black leather jacket; “Goddamn, Peter!” shortstop Francisco Lindor complimented him. Game 3 starter Chris Bassitt joked that 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, bantered with reliever David Peterson about deGrom’s poor text message etiquette. If there were tears, they were dry before the media was allowed in.
“I’ve been through this a lot now,” said reliever Adam Ottavino, who has played in—and lost in—four postseasons, with the Rockiesthe Yankeesthe Red Sox and now the Mets. “This wasn’t the most devastated 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 in some ways a stunning loss: All those 101 victories, second-most in franchise history, bought New York a chance to get knocked out by the 89-win Padres over the course of 27 innings. On Oct. 6, the Mets seemed to be a World Series contender. Three days later, they were packing their lockers.
But in other ways, they had started mourning this team a week earlier. Needing to win just one game against Atlanta to all but lock up the NL East and receive a bye into the National League Division Series, the Mets were instead 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 seven runs in total.
“Honestly, I think Monday we knew that it was a long shot to win the division by that point,” center fielder Brandon Nimmo said this weekend. “But we were going to give it everything that we had and finish the season strong.”
They won their last three games, but they looked listless 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-seamer, and the lineup strung together enough hits to force Game 3.
But Bassitt made it only four innings on Sunday, and Padres starter Joe Musgrove carried a no-hitter into the fifth; he so completely demolished New York that manager Buck Showalter asked the umpires in the sixth inning to check him for illegal substances. The umpires, after a thorough pat-down that included the bizarre scene of one adult man rubbing the ear of another, in the workplace, on national television, allowed Musgrove to proceed. The interlude did nothing to change either team’s fortunes. With winter looming, the Mets produced only one hit.
“I think maybe the nature of the loss—it was 6-0,” said Ottavino. “Certainly everyone thought we were going to win tonight here, but just the nature of the loss—we just got beat. 6–0. It wasn’t a heartbreaking stunner.” He added, “We had a lot ahead of us even if we won tonight.”
Indeed, a victory would have sent 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. The Mets would have hoped for at most one start from each one. 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 would start Bassitt in Game 2 in the hope that they could sweep and 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 “disbanding” of the team as he was about the loss. The roster will look different in 2023. DeGrom refused on 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 hold a mutual option. Closer Edwin Díaz is a free agent, as is Ottavino, who emerged as the top setup man. So is Nimmo.
“We just have a great roster,” Ottavino said. “It’s gonna be hard to duplicate it next year.”
The Mets will have plenty of time this winter to wonder whether 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 Roof 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 gotta get better,” Lindor said. “You kind of have to [hold your head up]. I guess this is our destiny. This is where it stops.”
The Mets were almost good enough, but not quite. And they knew it.
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