For the 70th time in 162 games, though, at least the Mets could dare look back. Nelson Figueroa, in what easily could have been his final start as a Major Leaguer, submitted the finest outing of his big league career, four-hitting the Astros in a shutout. Striking out seven, walking none and holding the Astros to merely three singles and a double, Figueroa put a final positive spin on what's been a six-month downward spiral.
It was the least he could do.
"He's been in the organization, he's been up and down, through waivers -- he's been a journeyman so to speak," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "And he performed extremely well for us."
"It was a good time," Figueroa said.
And so many of the 38,135 on hand stood and cheered for the final pitch of the 2009 season, which Carlos Lee skied to Angel Pagan in left field. This was not what they envisioned back in February or March, nor even mid-May or early July. But at least on the final afternoon, they could cheer, after reaching their nadir on this final Sunday in '07 and '08.
Pagan and Wright gave Figueroa his support with sacrifice flies in the third and fifth innings, respectively, and the Mets scored two other runs on Josh Thole's single and an error in the fourth. It marked their third straight victory -- the first time they've turned that trick since late July -- and their second complete-game shutout in a week.
It was, in essence, the type of moral victory that Wright insists he does not embrace -- but if nothing else, the Mets at least provided a relatively pain-free ending. During a season in which they lost Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Johan Santana -- among so many others -- due to injury, the Mets on Sunday could board their planes and jump in their cars without having to chew on one final loss.
"I've never been a big fan of moral victories," Wright said. "But if that's all we had to play for, it's good that we accomplished that. It's good that we could end the season on a positive note."
The note, on this day, came from an unlikely instrument -- a 2-8 pitcher who had lost five consecutive decisions coming into the day, who held a 12-28 lifetime record and who, for reasons of performance, had been utterly unable to stick on a Major League roster throughout the first eight and a half years of his career.
The 2009 Mets gave him his opportunity, and on this Sunday, he seized it. His performance will not land him a lucrative contract this offseason, nor a guarantee to start games in Flushing or anywhere else.
But why not win?
"Hopefully I showed them consistency," Figueroa said. "I showed them a guy who goes out there and battles, and is able to throw some good innings for you whether it's starting or relieving. I think with the opportunity I got with all the injuries, hopefully I made the most of it and put myself in the front of their mind come the offseason."
Thinking ahead like that was not something the Mets could do in '07 or '08, when their winter vacation came suddenly and unexpectedly, knocking them off their feet. This season's ending, by contrast, had been a foregone conclusion for months, a silent whisper that eventually evolved into common knowledge: the Mets, for all their preseason expectations and truckloads of talent, were not going to play in October.
"Every year is different," Beltran said, referring to his team's previous two collapses. "Every year is frustrating."
"They're all the same," Wright said. "It's a failed opportunity. If you don't go to the postseason, it doesn't matter for what reason. It's not a successful season."
Knowing that, they wheeled suitcases in and out of the clubhouse after the final game, the final victory, some of them leaving as early as Sunday night. Many will be back in February; others will not. But for one last day, at least, every one of them was a Met -- and each and every Met could take solace in one final win.