By Ernie Palladino
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Yoenis Cespedes might have been the only guy in the clubhouse to get it right Saturday.
While the other players doused themselves with champagne at the end of their long, often painful road to Wednesday’s wild card matchup with the Giants and Madison Bumgarner, Cespedes sat at his locker with nary a smile.
You see, sports has its way of raising expectations even for its most unlikeliest of achievers. And Cespedes knows that just being there against the visitors from San Francisco isn’t 90 percent of baseball success.
Victory and advancement will now define this team. For all the grit and guts the Mets showed in the face of endless injuries and a hit-or-miss lineup, losing the play-in to the NLDS will only make the Mets a different kind of nothing-special also-ran.
Beat Bumgarner and a team that has made the last three even-numbered postseasons its own, and then Cespedes and the rest will deserve to pound their chests.
At least until the Chicago Cubs get a hold of them in the NLDS. Then, all bets are off.
For this one game, though, it’s all about forward movement.
Survive and advance.
To accomplish that, they’ll have to beat a pitcher whose last wild card matchup which started the Giants’ 2014 championship run resulted in a four-hit shutout against the Pirates.
There’s no need to talk about his overall playoff record — 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA that includes an unbelievable 4-0 record and 0.25 ERA in the World Series.
The Mets, meanwhile, have given themselves the best shot possible at taking him down. Better to get Bumgarner at Citi Field than AT&T Park. And, despite the outstanding contributions of ageless Bartolo Colon and too-young-to-know-better Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, best to have Noah Syndergaard on the mound.
And, yeah, if the Mets hit the ninth inning in the lead, bet that Terry Collins will bring in Jeurys Familia this time. The hard lesson he learned in allowing Matt Harvey to try to finish Game 5 of last year’s World Series will stick with him for a lifetime.
Still, having the hard-throwing, fearless Syndergaard in there gives the Mets whatever edge one can reasonably have against a playoff monster like Bumgarner.
Runs should be hard to come by on both sides, but even more so for the the Mets. Unless the home run magic that turned Collins’ lineup into the fifth-most powerful in the majors with 218 dingers — 112 at home — gets to the Giants’ left-handed ace early, they probably won’t get to him at all.
That would leave Collins’ patched-together lineup with the task of manufacturing runs against him, a skill they haven’t mastered all season.
Buster Posey, Joe Panik, and Hunter Pence are just a few of the offensive contributors who have championship rings from 2014. They know the long way around to a World Series title.
The Mets don’t.
Hence the pensive attitude Cespedes adopted as his teammates frolicked Saturday.
The stakes have risen, and there is no glory in merely sharing the fourth-best record in the National League with the Giants.
The only satisfaction now will come from advancement.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino