NEW YORK -- New York Mets manager Terry Collins learned this season what then-Boston Red Sox skipper Terry Francona learned in 2005: The most challenging year for a manager isn't the year he directs a team to the World Series. It is the year after.
The most chaotic season of Collins' managerial career came to a sudden end Wednesday night, when San Francisco Giants third baseman Conor Gillaspie hit a ninth-inning, tiebreaking, three-run homer off Mets closer Jeurys Familiar to give the Giants a 3-0 win in the National League wild-card game at Citi Field.
It was the second straight year the Mets were eliminated with a home postseason loss. But the Mets that were victimized by Gillaspie and Madison Bumgarner looked nothing like the Mets who fell to the Kansas City Royals in five games in the 2015 World Series.
The lineup Collins fielded for the wild-card game featured just three players (Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Noah Syndergaard) who participated in the 2015 World Series -- and only three players from the Opening Day lineup: Cespedes, Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera. Only Granderson remained on the active roster all season.
The fifth through eight batters in an elimination game were T.J. Rivera (a 27-year-old rookie), Jay Bruce (a trade-deadline acquisition who was benched late in the regular season), Rene Rivera (released in spring training by the Tampa Bay Rays) and James Loney (ditto).
"I looked out there today and I said, 'Here's our catcher who catches Noah -- didn't have a job in April," Collins said. "Three guys -- Ces, Grandy and Noah -- who were in the World Series with us last year. So yeah, we overcame a lot of things."
And a lot of unexpected contributors. Rivera and Loney became full-timers following injuries to Travis d'Arnaud and Lucas Duda, respectively, while T.J. Rivera emerged as a starter after Neil Walker sustained a season-ending back injury in August. Captain David Wright was limited to just 37 games due to a herniated disk in his neck but was replaced by Jose Reyes, a former All-Star shortstop for the Mets who adapted quickly to third base.
Only one Mets starting pitcher -- 43-year-old Bartolo Colon -- made every scheduled turn in the rotation. While Syndergaard avoided a disabled list stint following a pair of elbow scares, Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (ulnar nerve) and Steven Matz (bone chips) all had their seasons shortened by surgeries. In addition, Zack Wheeler never pitched in the majors as he continued a slow recovery from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in March 2015.
"You're numb to it now, it's happened so much," Collins said in late September.
The Mets' surge into the playoffs -- they were 60-62 on Aug. 19 before posting the best record in baseball (27-13) the rest of the way -- was fueled by rookie right-handers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, who went a combined 9-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) over the final six weeks. Lugo or Gsellman likely would have started Game 1 of the NL Division Series had the Mets advanced to face the Chicago Cubs.
Francona's Red Sox followed up a curse-busting 2004 championship with a 95-win season that he called "the toughest year I've ever gone through." Suffice to say this was the toughest 87-win season Collins has ever experienced.
"We tried not to let it spread to the clubhouse too bad," Collins said. "But there's so much maneuvering that we had to do. So much skipping this guy, pitching this guy, giving this guy a day off. Hey, look, this guy's banged up, he needs two days, and you need to fill in."
With an extra month to rest this offseason, perhaps the Mets will get the downtime they lacked last winter and avoid the hangover that Collins sensed as soon as the club reported to spring training in February.
However, there will be plenty of questions to answer even assuming those who report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., in February are healthy and refreshed.
The Mets, who operate with a small-market payroll in America's largest city, need to figure out if they will re-sign Cespedes, the lineup anchor who is the franchise's biggest star since Mike Piazza. Cespedes can opt out of the final two seasons of his three-year deal and is expected to do so and hit a barren free agent market.
Bruce likely will have his option picked up, but was his slump a matter of the new guy trying to do too much or the work of a player ill-suited for New York? The Mets must retain either Cespedes or Bruce but also find room in the budget for a real center fielder. Granderson gamely played the position down the stretch but will be 36 by Opening Day.
Those are questions that can consume Collins in the weeks and months to come In the aftermath of a season-ending defeat, he wanted to take a few moments to marvel at the most interesting season of his career.
"They're hurting, but there's no reason to be," Collins said. "I mean, they were written off so many times this summer and yet they kept fighting back.
"There's only a few teams that could have come back under the circumstances we came back on. I'm really proud of them."