NEW YORK — It was an exhilarating run with an empty feeling at the finish line.
For a team that lost the World Series in five games, the New York Mets came tantalizingly close to winning.
They led Kansas City in the eighth inning or later during three gut-wrenching defeats. They played 53 innings and only trailed at the end of 13. Nine more outs spread over those gnawing nights and they're the ones bouncing in blissful unison at Citi Field, hoisting the championship trophy, soaking each other with champagne.
"This hurt," captain David Wright said. "There's no doubt about it."
After locking up leads all season with steady closer Jeurys Familia, the Mets were unable to put away the relentless Royals. Uncharacteristic walks, deficient defense and a couple of questionable decisions by manager Terry Collins did them in.
What follows now is endless second-guessing and a litany of what-ifs. The players, however, will leave all that to everyone else.
"That'll drive you crazy if you start doing that," Wright said. "When we get a chance a few days from now, a few weeks from now, to sit down and reflect on what we did to get here, I think it's going to bring a smile to everybody's face."
Indeed, it was a rollicking and unexpected ride to New York's first National League pennant in 15 years.
Decided underdogs to Washington in the NL East, Matt Harvey and the Mets re-energized fans at Citi Field during their first winning season since Shea Stadium was still home in 2008.
New York ended a nine-year playoff drought and captured its sixth division title. The Mets dispatched the $290 million Los Angeles Dodgers in a tense and testy Division Series, then swept the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS with a dominant display of pitching and power.
"Best time I've ever had on a baseball field," said Wright, who returned in late August after missing more than four months due to a hamstring injury and spinal stenosis.
Along the way, Jacob deGrom and rookie Noah Syndergaard demonstrated October mettle. Steven Matz more than held his own despite limited experience, and Daniel Murphy morphed into a record-setting playoff star.
"Tremendous year," Collins said early Monday after his team's 12-inning loss in the Series finale. "I just told the players, 'I've done this for a long, long time and this is the most fun I've ever had.'"
"Last March or last June no one would ever have said we were going to be sitting where we are," he added.
Flush with hard-throwing young aces, the Mets could be a force for years to come.
Zack Wheeler is expected back from Tommy John surgery by next summer, and New York's entire projected rotation is under contractual control through 2018.
That doesn't even include Jonathon Niese, who offers depth, trade bait or a needed lefty in the bullpen, the new role he took on during the postseason.
"These guys proved that they can be marquee names, household names, guys that can go out there and compete for the Cy Young year in and year out, and guys that can carry this organization for years to come into the postseason," Wright said.
Two important bats could be gone from the middle of the lineup, though.
Murphy and slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who exited the final game of the Series after fouling a ball off his left knee, became free agents Monday. So did four other players included on a postseason roster: Tyler Clippard, Bartolo Colon, Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.
Acquired from Detroit at the July 31 trade deadline, Cespedes will likely seek at least a six-year contract well in excess of $100 million. He said he would like to stay, but those numbers might not fit the Mets' plans.
"My agent told me that we'll see what's going on around December, so it's still too early," Cespedes said through a translator.
The 30-year-old Murphy, drafted by the Mets in 2006, will be a fascinating situation to watch.
Does he get paid in line with the limited contact hitter he's been most of his career, or the guy who suddenly discovered a dangerous power stroke late in the second half this season (with help from hitting coach Kevin Long) and totaled seven homers in nine NL playoff games?
The Mets never expressed much interest in extending Murphy's contract, and they have a second-base prospect in Dilson Herrera who appears ready for his shot in the majors.
In the World Series, Murphy batted .150 without an RBI and reminded everyone of his obvious fielding flaws with two costly errors.
"I like it here. I'd like to come back, but we'll have to see," he said. "I've enjoyed my time here. I really have. This organization has been great to me."
Kansas City outscored the Mets 15-1 from the seventh inning on, exposing New York's weaknesses. General manager Sandy Alderson surely would like to deepen the bullpen and tighten the defense this offseason.
But with rookie outfielder Michael Conforto and all those young arms on board, there's good reason to think the 2016 Mets could follow Kansas City's recent course — lose the World Series one year, win it the next.
For the Royals, it was their first crown in 30 years. Next season will mark three decades since New York's last title in 1986.
"Now we've got the, we've-been-there, done-that kind of feel going on," first baseman Lucas Duda said. "I like our ballclub."
The Mets open up next April in an interesting spot, with two interleague games against the champion Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"I'm excited about everything we have," said leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson, who had three Series homers and topped the team with 12 postseason RBIs. "The confidence will be high, but we've definitely got to continue to do some work and get after it."