They felt the reach of darkness at their backs, the finality of it all revealed with every anxious twitch and forceful fist pump. So one by one, as they have done all season, the Mets gave a piece of themselves in the name of extending an improbable revival.
Noah Syndergaard pitched the game of his life, matching zeros through the night with the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, the best playoff pitcher of his era. Curtis Granderson ran full speed into the centerfield wall, his shoulder ramming into the padding to save a run.
Yet, the silence came in the ninth inning last night, blanketing every corner of Citi Field. It was broken only by the thud of Conor Gillaspie’s three-run homer off closer Jeurys Familia hitting the bullpen roof.
Minutes later, the Mets slinked away from a 3-0 loss to the Giants in the National League wild-card game, an end that was as harsh as it was abrupt.
“It stings a little bit right now,” Syndergaard said. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet that this season’s over with. But I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys right here, for everything we went through.”
A season that began with so much promise slipped away, diminished by injuries. Only a six-week surge brought it back to life. But the Mets’ return to the postseason lasted only nine innings against Bumgarner, which is to say it barely existed at all.
As he did the last time he pitched in a wild-card game, in 2014 against the Pirates, the Giants lefty didn’t simply end a season. He stomped on it like a lit cigarette, tossing a four-hit shutout.
“These are fun games,” Bumgarner said after lowering his postseason ERA to 1.94. “But they’re pretty stressful at the same time.”
But the stress belonged to the Mets, who watched Familia add another chapter of misery at the end of a brilliant season. In racking up 51 saves, Familia had allowed only one homer.
His second came against Gillaspie, who had never played in a postseason game.
“A lot of people thought we weren’t going to make it here this year,” Familia said. “Everybody should be proud in this room because we made it with those injuries.”
The Mets were undone in the ninth. Brandon Crawford stroked a leadoff double, and with one out, Joe Panik worked a walk. With Familia on the ropes, Gillaspie unleashed a mighty swing. Soon, all that was left was Bumgarner, standing tall on the mound as he ushered in yet another early winter.
“Well, they’re hurting, but there’s no reason to be,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I mean, they were written off so many times this summer and yet they kept fighting back, and they said the other day you’ve got to have special people and special character to play in this town and in this environment, and that’s in that room.”
The pregame introductions served as a reminder of just how much the Mets endured. The inactive players standing on the first-base line included Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda and David Wright, who was introduced last and received the loudest ovation.
The Mets lost three-fifths of their projected starting rotation and at one point, three-fourths of their infield. Yet, after falling to 60-62, they sprinted for six weeks to give themselves one more chance to make magic.
Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the sixth on the way to firing seven scoreless innings. While harnessing the full force of his 6-6, 240 pound frame, Syndergaard unleashed a hail of 98 mph fastballs, and knee-bending curveballs.
Syndergaard struck out 10, becoming only the fourth Met to reach double-digits in a playoff game, joining deGrom, Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver.
Said Collins: “I tell you, he stepped up when we needed him.”
By the end, Syndergaard and Bumgarner had staged one of the most heart-stopping duels in postseason history. According to mlb.com, it was only the second time that two starters pitched at least seven innings in a winner-take-all game since Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. In that classic, Jack Morris threw 10 shutout innings to beat John Smoltz, who tossed 7 1⁄3 scoreless frames.
Syndergaard’s effort was wasted. In the clubhouse after, the Mets exchanged hugs, unclear if this group would stay together. Yoenis Cespedes is expected to opt out, perhaps the biggest domino in what should be an intriguing offseason.
General manager Sandy Alderson went around every locker, shaking hands with the players who had hoped to go to Chicago, their pockets stuffed with house money. Instead, they parted ways into the darkness.