NEW YORK -- Of course the year's final game had to come down to Oliver Perez, taking the mound to amused cheers and genuine boos and sarcastic chants of "M-V-P." Of course the Mets could not end their season quietly, instead taking a turn to the bizarre in a 14-inning, 2-1 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field.
Of course that's how it had to happen.
Three walks and a hit batsman doomed Perez on the final day of the 2010 season, which could've ended the managerial tenure of Jerry Manuel -- the man who so steadfastly refused to use Perez over the final two and a half months of the season. Entering amidst raucous boos and striking the first man he faced to some equally-raucous cheers, Perez then hit a batter and walked three consecutive Nationals to force in the winning run.
Then he walked off the field to boos, louder than before. His manager followed.
Then the season ended.
"I can't wait to do it again," Manuel said.
He wasn't kidding.
This is likely the end for Manuel, who, like general manager Omar Minaya, has been the subject of many media reports and has a meeting scheduled with Mets ownership Monday to discuss his future. Sunday's game did not change anything; the Wilpon family has already made its decisions. But it did leave a sour taste in the mouth of a manager wrapping up his second consecutive losing season.
Out of fresh bullpen arms and unwilling to tap the already-overused Pedro Feliciano and Elmer Dessens, Manuel finally relented in the 14th inning and did something he had not done in 27 days: he called on Perez. And Perez threw like a man who has not pitched in 27 days, often missing the strike zone by wide margins.
The batter who drew the game-winning walk, Nats outfielder Jason Maxwell, called it "a real good at-bat." Perez, who bolted the clubhouse before most reporters entered, probably had a different view of things, as evidenced by his actions on the field. After Manuel took the ball from the left-hander and gave it to starting pitcher Pat Misch, Perez took out his frustrations in the dugout. Aggressively.
Certainly, Perez has plenty to regret from a season that saw him earn a demotion to the bullpen, refuse a Minor League assignment and then sit all but idle on the bullpen bench for the final two and a half months of the season.
Many of these Mets have regrets. Manuel included.
"I felt bad that we had to put Ollie in a situation that we had no choice, we had nothing left," the manager said. "That bothers me."
It bothered Manuel, too, that his Mets could not earn a 16th victory for Mike Pelfrey, who started the game and pitched rather well -- allowing just one run in seven innings. The only problem was that Livan Hernandez -- as is his custom against his former team -- was nearly as good, holding the Mets to a single run over 6 1/3 innings.
"There's enough blame to go around in this clubhouse," third baseman David Wright said. But he was talking about the season, not the game.
Sunday's game, despite its ending, was not of itself a joyless endeavor. In what may turn out to be one of his final acts as manager, Manuel ensured standing ovations for Wright and Jose Reyes by sending them out on defense for the ninth inning, then calling them back in favor of replacements.
And so, in turn, the shortstop and third baseman left the field to cheers. Genuine cheers. On this day, no one was arguing to break up the core.
"He always tried to help me out," Reyes said of Manuel. "He tried to make me a better player, so I appreciated that from Jerry."
"I'm very appreciative that Jerry would even think about doing that," Wright said. "I thanked him. That meant a lot to me -- not for the actual action, but just for him thinking about me."
But Wright also said that, "at the end of the day, it's tough to really enjoy anything." And his was the attitude shared by so many Mets, who packed their bags quickly Sunday evening and began scattering to their various hometowns.
Most of this current bunch, Wright and Reyes included, will be back. Some, mostly role players, will not. But the most conspicuous departures may occur as soon as Monday, when the Mets meet with Manuel and Minaya to discuss their fates.
When Manuel took over for Willie Randolph 28 months ago, he joked in his introductory press conference that the Mets could not fire him if he never took off his uniform. Sunday, with his family in attendance at Citi Field, Manuel reflected on his time here and said he'd like to be back next season.
Then he walked back to his office and changed clothes.
"I've got to pack up, clean up," Manuel said. "I've got to do all that kind of stuff, and then I'll come in and find out exactly in what direction the organization wants to go. And then I'll head to Sacramento, [Calif.]."