A total of 45,302 Phanatics packed into Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon fully expecting to see the Philadelphia Phillies end the day by celebrating their fourth straight division championship.  As long as the Braves lost, of course.

The Braves would indeed lose to the Washington Nationals by a score of 4-2.  But the Phillies plans of celebrating their fourth consecutive National League East title at home was thwarted…by the New York Mets.

Yes, the Mets

The Mets who found no trouble in inventing countless humiliating ways to blow a seven and a half game lead to the Phillies with 17 games left to play in 2007. 

The Mets who were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the regular season for the second straight year in 2008. 

The Mets who were somehow able to play so poorly and accumulate so many injuries to star players that they left a brand new stadium relatively empty in the latter months of 2009.

And the same Mets that just couldn’t get a clutch hit no matter what the scenario in 2010.

They went into Philadelphia knowing quite well they might be seeing their division arch-rivals celebrating a playoff berth in their faces. 

They didn’t know that Chase Utley was going to barrel into second base and Ruben Tejada like a human torpedo on Friday night, prompting Mets third baseman David Wright to tell reporters after the game, “There’s a thin line between going out there and playing the game hard and going out there and trying to get somebody hurt.”

Strong words.  And for once, this weekend, the Mets backed their strong words up.

The Mets vowed they would start sliding into second base like Utley did.  Carlos Beltran, a Met whose character has been questioned at times, almost took out both Phillie middle infielders with his slide into second the next day.  On Sunday, Henry Blanco did the same. 

But it didn’t stop with the sliding.  All of a sudden, the Mets started playing like the Phillies.  It was the Mets, not the Phillies, getting the big clutch hit with the bases loaded from Lucas Duda on Saturday to put the Mets ahead for good. 

It was the Mets who held the Phillies to just 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, while the Mets smacked three home runs and got several two-out run-scoring hits.  Quite often, it’s the other way around. 

And it was the Mets who took two of three from the Phillies this weekend. 

It’s too little, too late for the Mets in 2010.  After this upcoming seven-game home stand against the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals, the Mets will quietly go into the winter, not qualifying for the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

But they gained a couple small moral victories this past weekend, no matter how unimportant the actual victories are in the standings. 

One, of course, was that they were able to foil the Phillies plans to celebrate their division championship with their home fans.  Make no mistake, the Phillies are still winning the division.  But also make no mistake, they really wanted to clinch in their home ballpark. And at the same time, the Mets really didn’t want them to.

The second is that maybe that slide by Utley, in a rather meaningless September game, taught the Mets a little bit about how the game is meant to be played.  The slide wasn’t as dirty as it was hard.  They teach you to slide hard into second base when you’re in middle school.  But when was the last time you saw a Met before this weekend slide into second base hard enough where you noticed it?

Maybe they realized that the difference between first place and fourth place isn’t so much in talent, but rather in playing the game hard 162 times a season.

If the Mets can take the lesson learned from this weekend and take it into the 2011 season, they’ll be alright. 

As far as the 2010 season goes, the Phillies will say they couldn’t clinch the NL East at home because of the Mets.  And let’s be honest, when was the last time the Phillies “couldn’t” do something (besides lose) when the Mets were involved? 

As little revenge as it is for what’s happened over the past four seasons, it’s still something.

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