For Game 2 of the Wild Card series between the Padres and the Mets, my college friend and I drove from Boston to New York to see the game live. We picked the right game; the Mets won 7-3, the crowd sold out Citi Field, and the drama of the game made for an incredible evening of baseball. After the game, while waiting to pull out of the lot, we considered stopping somewhere to rest. However, the adrenaline and lack of traffic on I-95 gave us the idea to drive straight home. So we went up the highway in the wee hours, excited to get to bed and nervous about the outcome of the third and final Wild Card game ahead of us.

When I got home, however, I still didn’t feel tired. So I went out with my cousin and some other friends to watch the Lions-Patriots game at Mickey Malone’s in Brockton. Bailey Zappe did well in his first start at quarterback for the Pats, and New England beat Detroit 29-0, and we celebrated with a table full of food and drink. But as soon as I got to the car, it took all of my energy to drive back home without swerving onto someone’s front lawn. I parked in the driveway, stumbled into the living room, and crashed on the couch with just enough energy to tune the TV to ESPN before passing out.

I woke up in time for the Wild Card game to begin, but still found myself dozing off during the first few innings. Only once the Mets began to give up runs to the Padres and allow Joe Musgrove to pitch four perfect innings did my energy return in full. I cursed myself. Of course I would come back to planet Earth just in time to watch my team get eliminated from the postseason! As the innings went on and the end of the season for the Mets seemed nigh, I hid my head under the blanket and willed myself back to bed. A final score of 6-0 in favor of San Diego was my last sight.

We picked the right game to attend, my friend and I. If we’d gone to Sunday’s game instead of Saturday’s, I doubt we would have had the physical or mental energy to withstand the four-hour car ride home. I wouldn’t wish that long and arduous trip on anyone.

I think back to the beginning of this season where I didn’t figure the Mets would go as far as the Wild Card. I imagined the Braves and Phillies would overpower us with their mean offenses, our pitching would be good but not good enough to hold the line against powerful teams, and we would have to fight like hell to surpass the troubles of the past two seasons. I predicted a Braves return to the World Series, as I still do now.

But during the regular season, we did so much better than I could have expected. 101 wins, a combined no-hitter, comeback after comeback, a league-wide batting title for Jeff McNeil, Alonso tying with Judge for the most RBIs in the league, Lindor breaking the record for most RBIs by a Mets shortstop, and a playoff berth to show for all of it. Playoffs are much different than the regular season, and while it’s nice to have a trophy or a pennant, it’s during the regular season that a team proves what they can do.

So while the Mets proved that they would become a hot club, they still have work to do. They had many moments during the season – too many of them do-or-die – where their energy gave out. They got swept against the Cubs and the Nationals, and they won no games in their final series against the Braves. That latter series could have allowed them to rest easy for the NLDS had they won even one game. But nothing is ever easy for the Mets. They let the pressure get to their heads, they play to their competition, they let distractions get in their way. Baseball is a mental game, and the Mets let too much get to their heads when it mattered the most.

But a poor showing in the playoffs doesn’t erase a triple-digit number in the win column. It doesn’t make the regular season any less fun, and it doesn’t make looking back at it any more painful. We remember our successes. We learn from our losses. We move on to next year with as much hope as we began this one.

So what’s next? We have several players on the free agency list, some of whom have been integral to the success of this team over the years: deGrom, Diaz, Lugo, Nimmo, Carrasco, May, and Walker, among others. I can imagine Steve Cohen and the rest of the Mets’ front office will do what they can to keep a handful. Nimmo should remain at center field where he has flourished, unless the Mets have any ability to get Aaron Judge, which I doubt is possible. Diaz has announced his intention to stay in New York for the right price, and as our elite closer and reliever, I am sure the Mets will give him whatever money he wants.

But I’m really not sure about deGrom or the rest. I imagine that our ace will command a price that few teams including ours would want to give him. This is why I assume the Mets will keep deGrom, Nimmo, and Diaz instead of trying to get Judge, since they can make offers to those players and have money left in the bank without breaking their budget for 2023. Going for a big name would require us to give up one of our own, and I doubt that’s something Steve, the front office, or the fans want. The only way those players would leave is if another team offered them a better bag, and I can see many teams doing so, either to kneecap the Mets and further bolster their position in the NL East (Braves, Phillies) or for teams in other divisions to improve their own rotations next season (Rangers, Mariners, Orioles). I hope that the Mets can pull together the funds to prevent any of that from happening.

In any case, from the looks of Mets Twitter, the MLB Discord, and the general vibe of the team’s analysts, beat writers, and influential followers, “These Mets” have taken themselves out of the race too early. It’s disappointing and frustrating, sure, but it’s no reason to sour on the team or for anyone’s trust to become deflated. Anyone who jumps off the wagon never climbed fully aboard in the first place, not even if they’ve tried to stay on it for years. The way of a true fan is to take the ride all over again, no matter how bumpy it gets.

But now let’s look at the rest of the postseason race. So many analysts have gotten it wrong already, and I fear I have as well, but what’s one more bracket in a sea of millions?

It might be risky to say that San Diego will go on from beating the Mets to winning the NLDS against the 111-win Dodgers, but that team looks spunky enough to do it. The Yankees will handle the Guardians with ease, just as the Astros will against the Mariners. My apologies to anyone who hopes the Ms will live a fairy tale story. Pennants will go to the Yankees and Braves, and the Braves will pull off the repeat victory in six games of the World Series. Does it suck to say this? Sure. But it seems like the option that would net me the most revenue were I a betting man.

I hope I’m right. And I hope that in a year’s time, the Mets are back in the race facing off the two-time champion Braves in the playoffs, ready for blood. This fan base had better be just as prepared. A lost playoff series doesn’t mean this fanbase gets to tuck their tails between their legs. It means we dust ourselves off, sharpen our swords, and look toward next year. The blue and orange had better be out in full force once pitchers and catchers get called down to Florida.

It’s all about the Mets. It will never stop being about the Mets.