PHILADELPHIA -- Even Mets manager Terry Collins, an enduring optimist, swears he did not expect this back in mid-August. A sub-.500 team missing more than a half-dozen of its best players, the Mets struggled to beat back the notion that perhaps this just was not their year.
Then came a turnaround that, in some ways, was even more remarkable than what the Mets accomplished last year en route to the National League pennant. In beating the Phillies, 5-3, at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, the Mets clinched both their second consecutive postseason berth and the right to host Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game at Citi Field.
"There are always doubts," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "You always have those doubts trying to creep into the back of your head. But these guys kept playing. I can't say enough about the young players who have come up and really made the difference."
"This was hard," Collins said. "And our guys, they should enjoy this for a day, and then get ready."
The Mets will play either the Cardinals or Giants in Wednesday's win-or-go-home game, with the winner moving on to face the Cubs in a best-of-five National League Division Series beginning Friday. Neither the Giants nor the Cards can clinch a Wild Card spot Saturday. If the two are tied after Sunday, the tiebreaker game on Monday would be in St. Louis.
"It's so hard to get to the playoffs," outfielder Jay Bruce said. "You never know when you're going to get there or when you're going to go back. We're just really, really fortunate to be here."
Over the coming days, the Mets will begin planning for the Wild Card assignment. Saturday, they simply reveled in their 87th victory, which James Loney secured with a tiebreaking two-run homer in the sixth. Throwing his arms up in the air after making contact, Loney glanced back to a dugout bursting with optimism before dropping his bat and rounding the bases.
An inning earlier, Ryan Howard had tied the game with a two-run homer of his own, earning a curtain call from the thousands who came out to watch his final days as a member of the Phillies.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Flipadelphia: In the starting lineup only because Lucas Duda woke up experiencing some general body soreness, Loney knew his go-ahead homer was gone off the bat. Statcast™ projected Loney's blast to land 426 feet away, easily his longest of the past two seasons. More >
"I didn't even know what I did," Loney said of his bat flip. "Nothing toward the other team. That's for your own team."
Howard's last blast? Howard, playing in the second-to-final game of his Phillies career, tied the game in the fifth with a two-run home run off Mets starter Bartolo Colon. Fans stood and cheered for a curtain call and Howard obliged. The 382nd home run of Howard's career moved him into a 67th-place tie on the all-time list with Jim Rice and Frank Howard. More >
"It was cool, it was cool," Howard said about the curtain call. "I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you've got to congratulate those guys because they've scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That's a good ballclub."
Hitting machine: Extrapolate T.J. Rivera's statistics over a full season and he would be a clear NL Rookie of the Year candidate. He'll have to settle for his role as a valuable September piece for the Mets, and a clear part of their October plans. Rivera's RBI single in the fourth inning opened the scoring off Phillies starter Phil Klein, who allowed no other runs.
Should have had that: Phillies left fielder Jimmy Paredes did not catch a fly ball with two outs and nobody on base in the fourth inning. Curtis Granderson turned it into a double, and two batters later he scored on a single from Rivera to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. One of the Phillies' alternatives to play left field Saturday, Darin Ruf, hit a pinch-hit homer in the seventh to make it 4-3.
"The wind was just taking it pretty hard to the left-field line," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Paredes' play in the fourth. "He was running hard after it. You could see from our angle the wind was just blowing it toward the line."
"You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where when we've seen it before, you want to be those guys. When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year, you want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field." -- Howard
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Mets reached the postseason in consecutive seasons for just the second time, joining the 1999-2000 Mets who lost in the NLCS and World Series, respectively.
Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes was forced to watch the game's final three outs from the clubhouse. Home-plate umpire Will Little ejected Cespedes, who finished 0-for-5 with two double plays, for arguing a called third strike to end the top of the ninth.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: With a home Wild Card Game secured, the Mets will start Gabriel Ynoa instead of Noah Syndergaard in Sunday's 3:05 p.m. ET regular-season finale at Citizens Bank Park. Syndergaard will start Wednesday against either the Cardinals or Giants.
Phillies: The Phillies play their 2016 finale Sunday afternoon. The team will have a pregame ceremony to honor Howard's career. Howard will be playing his final game with the organization, which selected him in the 2001 Draft.