CINCINNATI -- Enough smoke filled the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park to cast a haze over the entire room. In one corner, Wilmer Flores stood, a beer in his left hand and a cigar in his right, soaking in the scene. In the center, Yoenis Cespedes climbed atop a podium, jabbering into a television camera. Down a hallway, dozens of empty champagne bottles lay stacked against a wall. Various Mets milled about, clutching cellphones and snapping pictures. The air was thick with smoke and noise.
At one point, the newly crowned National League East champions, by virtue of their 10-2 win Saturday over the Reds, spilled back onto the field. It was not their own ballpark, but good enough for the business at hand; scores of Mets fans, many having traversed the several hundred miles between Cincinnati and New York, awaited. Flores held up a makeshift championship banner, lifting ski goggles above his eyes. Flanked by family, David Wright saluted a crowd that was chanting his name.
It was bedlam and it was soothing and it was nine years in the making. A franchise that had become known as much for its September collapses and off-field issues than anything else had reestablished itself as an NL power. The Mets had thumbed their pushpin back onto baseball's map.
"It's a long time coming," Wright said. He paused as teammate Bartolo Colon grabbed the back of his T-shirt, poured a few ounces of beer down his back, and snapped the shirt back into place. "We deserve this. The fans deserve it. The city of New York deserves it. I'm glad we could deliver for them."
By Saturday, the party had become inevitable. Since the first weekend of August, when the Mets took their new-look roster -- Cespedes and the gang -- and bulled through the Nationals to reach first place, no one seemed capable of stopping them. General manager Sandy Alderson pointed to the club's subsequent series in Washington as the moment when everything truly became a matter of time, the division suddenly theirs alone for the taking.
But they still had to reach out and make things official. The Mets did so in rousing fashion, taking a 4-0, first-inning lead on Lucas Duda's grand slam and only extending it from there. Earlier in the week, Matt Harvey approached his manager, Terry Collins, with a request to throw 100 pitches -- agent Scott Boras and everyone else be darned -- in what ultimately became the clincher. He wound up lasting 97, holding the Reds to two runs over 6 2/3 innings.
By the time Jeurys Familia registered two strikes on Jay Bruce in the ninth, players were clamoring for space upon the top step of the dugout. Strike three exploded into Travis d'Arnaud's mitt, they vaulted over the railing and the party began.
"This is what it's all about," said Collins, the league's oldest manager and now its newest first-time playoff participant. "This is why you play the game. You're tired. You're worn out. This is worth all the effort, all the hours. There's no way to describe it until you've done it."
Back in the clubhouse, Flores shook his head and said, simply, "This is why I wanted to stay." One of this season's most prominent faces, Flores had been traded to the Brewers until the deal fell through for medical reasons, leading him to weep on the field during a game in Flushing. Two days later, Flores hit a walk-off homer against the Nationals. Two months later, he celebrated.
They all celebrated. They all grinned, their shirts slicked with champagne. This was theirs to own.
The Mets, for the first time since 2006, were NL East champions.
"I knew we were going to make the playoffs," Flores said, his eyes wide. "You say it and you say it again: 'We have a good team to do it.' But once you're here, you can't believe you did it."