CHICAGO -- The visitors' clubhouse was empty but for a few attendants, collecting spent champagne bottles and sweeping corks into a messy pile. The Mets' party had spilled back onto a field -- Wrigley Field -- that was their playground for two nights in October.
Players mingled with family members. Employees who had waited a decade and a half for this embraced. Fans refused to leave, hanging over the first-base dugout, where David Wright hopped onto the concrete steps and high-fived them.
Three sections back, bathed in darkness, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson sat alone. The team he spent the past five years constructing had just beaten the Cubs, 8-3, to sweep the National League Championship Series on Wednesday and advance to the World Series. From atop his mountain, Alderson gazed down into the valley.
The Mets' journey to their fifth National League pennant and first in 15 years was hopeful at the start, desperate in the middle and inevitable at the end. Boosted by Alderson's flurry of Trade Deadline acquisitions, the Mets leaned on Yoenis Cespedes to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006, then on Daniel Murphy and their young pitching to squeeze the life out of both the Dodgers and Cubs. In Wednesday's clincher, Murphy hit a home run for the sixth consecutive game. Steven Matz, in just his eighth Major League appearance, limited the Cubs to one run into the fifth. The outcome was never really in doubt.
And so the Mets partied into the night, reveling in their eight-month run to the World Series before boarding a flight back to New York and, eventually, turning to the challenge that lies ahead. They will play either the Royals or the Blue Jays in the World Series (Game 1 Tuesday on FOX). One was last year's runner-up, a team largely expected to reach this point. The other was a club much like their own, unsure of its footing before recreating itself and storming to a division title.
To a man, the Mets still blink their eyes and shake their heads when they meditate on that sort of thing. Disintegrating in early July, they transformed into something almost unrecognizable from what they were.
"We don't have enough time to talk about how excited I am, how proud I am of this team, this city, this organization, this group of guys," said Wright, who missed four months due to injury but settled back as a cog upon his return. He paused as Murphy embraced him. "You're talking about the 2015 Mets, one of the greatest Mets teams ever assembled, right up there with hopefully the '69 Mets, the '86 Mets. You're talking about cementing a place in Mets history."
Those two Mets teams won the World Series -- one as an upstart, the other as a dominant force. This club has been a blend of both. For three months, the Mets coughed out exhaust as they chugged along, relying on the stable of young starting pitchers that Alderson spent years refusing to trade. Many around the game assumed they were a year away from serious contention, once they could figure out how to score.
But when the Nationals proved unable to pull away with the NL East, Alderson struck. He traded for Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and others, then attempted to acquire Carlos Gomez before settling for Cespedes. It was "fortuitous," in his words; Cespedes made the Mets the league's most powerful offense in August and September, willing them to the division title even as their young pitching scuffled.
In October, everything jelled. The Mets hit -- at times almost exclusively thanks to Murphy, the NLCS MVP who slugged 1.294 in the series, highest in history. They pitched brilliantly behind Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Matz. They thrived. They partied. They embraced. They advanced.
"We're one of the final two teams standing," outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "Which is amazing."
"Our goal," Alderson said, "was to play good baseball through the entire regular season. We took some detours along the way. We had some injuries. But the pitching kept us in it through the first half of the season, and we were able to add some offense, get some people back. And everything came together."