By Rich Coutinho
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All those experts who thought the Mets were pretenders instead of contenders insisted a sweep at Yankee Stadium would be the beginning of the end.

As usual,  Terry Collins and his players didn’t get the memo, or more properly, ripped it up and tossed it in the garbage. These guys have pulled for each other, believed in one another and most importantly, ignored the critics who vastly underestimated both the talent and heart inside this clubhouse.

Do the Mets have flaws? Sure they do. Their bullpen can be wildly inconsistent, they lack team speed and could use a reliable power bat. But the soul of this team is what drives them and has them second in the NL East.

Each time the season has seemed to slip away — just a little bit — they responded. This team has shown time and time again it has no intention of going away, after the sweep in Houston, a tough twin bill loss to the Giants and getting smoked out of Yankee Stadium. Even In that Sunday game versus the Yankees, they showed heart coming back to tie the game in the ninth inning after blowing it in the previous frame.

To most of the experts, the Mets would be smacked down to the ground during this tough stretch. Their contention was that eight consecutive series against teams over .500 would be too much to tackle. Well, we’re more than halfway through that stretch — and the Mets are 8-8 against the Cards, Phils, Yanks, Nats and Rays, with the Reds, Orioles and Yankees on tap in their next nine games.

I know Mets fans would have preferred more wins in the Bronx, but splitting 16 games against these opponents should be considered acceptable.

The Amazin’s may do it the hard way and may force their fans to live through some tense moments, but that’s what being a Mets fan is all about. This nine-game homestand will once again test Terry’s squad, but they have risen to every challenge — including beating around the Rays pitching staff in a way they are not accustomed to. New York has topped some very good pitchers this year, including Cliff Lee, Josh Johnson, Tommy Hanson, Mark Buerhle, David Price and Adam Wainright. They have swept series from the Phillies, Marlins, Braves and Rays.

That’s rarefied air for Mets fans.

As we head into the first days and weeks of summer, the Mets have shown that they belong at least in the playoff conversation by knocking on the front door. Whether they remain in the hunt and ultimately snare a spot in baseball’s October party remains to be seen. But they got here with a leaky bullpen and an offense that has stalled at various points this season. Ike Davis has seemed to find himself recently and Lucas Duda has become a good run producer to compliment David Wright, who is having an MVP-type season.

Even with an uneven lineup, the Mets have been incredible in the clutch, leading the majors in two-out RBIs, showing these hitters shine when the pressure is on.

It all adds up to an exciting summer in Citi Field, and one in which this bunch of Mets might just prove everyone wrong. Another big nine-game stretch awaits, but this team will be ready to do what it takes.

They have authored a great script through the first 64 games, even though most experts thought they would have established residence in the NL East basement by now.

And that script just might have an ending very few Mets fans could imagine back in spring training.

OK Mets fans, we’ve seen a nice sample size. Do you believe? Be heard in the comments below!