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Mets' exasperating '09 comes to an end

Mets' frustrating '09 comes to an end

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NEW YORK -- As a group, and with Nelson Figueroa providing most of the umph, the Mets slammed shut the exit door and entered the corridor that leads to next year Sunday afternoon. Almost gleefully, they shut themselves off from arguably the most exasperating season a New York baseball team has experienced in the last 50 years. When else since the Dodgers and Giants left town have the Yankees or Mets begun a season with expectations -- unrealistic and/or objective -- so high and finished it with so little reward?

By beating the Astros on Sunday, the Mets won their 162nd game for the first time in three years, picking two scabs for those who couldn't avoid remembering. They put their victory total at 70, which appears to be about 10 beyond 69. But 70 is least 20 fewer victories than the least optimistic among them estimated in March. They were certain then that Oct. 4 would be followed by a comma, not a period.

David Wright called it "a failed season" as teammates packed and fled a clubhouse, not yet a year old, that is carpeted with bad memories, papered with misery and illuminated with muted light fixtures. No one disputed Wright's evaluation or the suggestion offered by a visitor that said Game 162 was euthanasia.

Carlos Beltran, his calendar already turned ahead six months, said "Next year will be a different year." And not only in a numerical way.

Players of almost any other team not involved in the postseason would express similar sentiments. The Mets' season had been more wretched, more toxic than most, though. Maddening injuries, embarrassing defeats and a low level of performance seldom reached by a big league team came one year after an "almost" finish. "I can't believe how bad we played sometimes," Frankie Rodriguez said. He had anticipated so much more in his first National League season.

Recovery from this 70-92 record and 23-games-behind finish might require more time than most, if only because March had been so heavy with hope and included no plans for hunting, fishing and the stuff that the EveryCity Also-Rans do each year. Wright said, were he forced to choose, he would opt for the acute final-day pain he endured in 2007 and '08 rather than the duller, gnawing pain of '09. "We gave it our best the last two years," he said.

He didn't assess what they have given in this dreadful season. Nor did he need to. Before the Mets' game Saturday, Wright said, "I'm excited to get this over with." And that covered it for a motivated, competitive but seemingly frayed 26-year-old third baseman who spoke of the inverse benefits of abject disappointment. "You get tougher, stronger. You learn to deal with failure," Wright said.

As they departed, the Mets were well beyond the gallows humor and self-deprecation of the midsummer. Players on poor-performance teams can laugh at themselves after the initial realization that the season will bring no reward. But the Mets have suspected as much since they figured Jose Reyes wouldn't return -- mid July. And by mid-August -- before they lost nine of 11 games to the Braves, Phillies, Marlins and Cubs -- they sensed a greater doom.

"It just knocks you down so much when you want to play well and you can't," Jeff Francoeur said last week after an unbecoming loss to the Marlins. "And when you realize it's not going to get better, it's hard to kid about. The season's long enough when it's fun."

The final week of the regular season brought the Mets three victories against the also-dispirited Astros, their first three-victory streak since late July, and several sobering thoughts. One involved the White Sox victory against the Tigers on Saturday night. The winning pitcher, Freddy Garcia, was in the Mets' camp in February and March and unable to impress anyone.

Yet there he was Saturday, pitching into the eighth inning. "The game is crazy," Jeremy Reed said as he bid farewells to his colleagues. "But it's reality."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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