CINCINNATI -- The Mets left Great American Ball Park shortly after 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, noticeably lighter than when they arrived four days prior. Gone was Carlos Beltran, their most consistent power hitter. Gone were most expectations that they will be able to weather enough adversity to play in October.
And yet there was Jason Isringhausen, smacking his glove with his fist after recording the final out in the ninth. And there was Jon Niese, singing along to rock music pulsing through the clubhouse. And there was Chris Capuano, calling this "probably the best team I've ever been on."
The departure of Beltran, it seems, has galvanized the Mets in more ways than their 10-9 victory and four-game series sweep over the Reds could define.
"We're drained," manager Terry Collins said. "These guys are playing on strictly nothing but game adrenaline. They're wiped out physically. They're wiped out mentally."
Touching down in Northern Kentucky with an oppressive cloud of speculation surrounding one player, the Mets joined Beltran for what amounted to a farewell dinner late Tuesday night. The following afternoon, they absorbed news of his trade before winning an emotional game against a Reds team still contending for a playoff berth. Then they won Thursday's finale behind Jason Bay and Lucas Duda, capping the franchise's first four-game sweep in Cincinnati.
"Is there a sigh of relief? No, because you can't replace him," Isringhausen said. "But in the same sense, we all know what we have to do still."
In short, they must take Thursday's effort and bottle it. Though Capuano battled through high-90s temperatures all afternoon, drinking a full bottle of Gatorade and water after every inning, the Mets backed him with one of their best offensive performances of the season. Torching Reds starter Homer Bailey for nine runs, the Mets struck significant blows on three-run doubles from Duda and Bay in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively.
"They were hot this series," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "They weren't missing anything. You notice the averages on the board -- they came in one thing and left 10, 12 points higher."
Additional run-scoring hits came from David Wright, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan, giving the Mets more than enough offense to weather a comeback. And there was indeed a retort, keyed by Miguel Cairo's pinch-hit three-run homer on reliever Manny Acosta's first pitch in the sixth.
But although the Reds twice drew within one run, most notably on Joey Votto's leadoff homer against Isringhausen in the ninth, the Mets never completely cracked. Isringhausen retired the next three batters to nail down his 297th career save, and his team returned to a clubhouse where Beltran's face was plastered across the televisions.
That much was typical. For most of the past month, the Mets have been unable to escape the growing shadow of Beltran, whose trade status advanced from possibility to inevitability as July wore on. They have answered questions ranging from the elementary to the existential. They have discussed the power, the influence, the personality and the shortcomings of a player whom Collins called "a big part of that room."
"Once in a while, they're human," their manager said. "It just starts to wear on them."
To be certain, the Mets all miss Beltran and wish he was still here; making the playoffs will be a much more difficult task without him. But they are glad now that they can focus on baseball and nothing else -- on two-out hits against Bailey and triple-digit fastballs from Bobby Parnell and stolen bases and strikeouts and proper execution.
The running clubhouse joke is that the Mets have already found the new Beltran. "His name is Daniel Murphy," Bay said, referencing the first baseman's torrid streak at the plate. And indeed, Murphy clogged up the middle of their order again on Thursday, reaching base and scoring on three separate occasions.
They hardly consider that coincidence.
"You learn more from your struggles," Bay said. "You learn more from your adversity. And we have come across a ton of that."
And so the Mets departed Cincinnati a lighter team, in both the best and worst senses of the word. Collins plans to address his players Monday afternoon, waiting until after this weekend's non-waiver Trade Deadline in case the front office decides to spring another trade. That is unlikely. The Mets know it is unlikely.
It showed on their faces Thursday and seeped through their words.
"We all kind of knew it was going to happen," Isringhausen said of the trade. "There's no way of replacing Carlos -- we know that. But what it does is give some of these other guys a chance to build their resume, and they'd better take advantage of it."