MIAMI -- Throughout the waning weeks of this season, David Wright has looked to the Orioles for inspiration. Last year, at the tail end of another losing campaign, the Birds won nine of their final 12 games to spur them into the winter.
Now, they are in the playoffs.
So at the conclusion of a fourth consecutive losing summer, the Mets took heart in their own little run toward the end of September. No matter that they stumbled on their final road trip, Wright might say. His Mets won a 4-2 season finale over the Marlins on the strength of Jeremy Hefner's pitching and some uncharacteristic power, scattering them to their hometowns Wednesday on a happier note.
"Good and bad," was how Wright described the 74-88 season. "A lot of good things to take out of the first half and a lot of bad things to take out of the second half. Obviously we have plenty of room for improvement. But at the same time, we got a little taste of what it's like to win."
In his last chance to prove himself heading into the winter, Hefner held the Fish to nothing more than Gorkys Hernandez's RBI single in the sixth inning, plating Donnie Murphy, and a second run that scored only after he departed. Coming off his best start of the season last week against the Pirates, Hefner struck out seven over 7 1/3 innings.
The right-hander's line might have been even more impressive had the Marlins not rallied against him and the bullpen in the eighth, loading the bases with two outs, but scoring only once.
"It's fun to win," said Hefner, who gave up two runs over the final 14 1/3 innings of his season. "Hopefully [the Mets] know who I am now, at least."
The power came from Scott Hairston, who hit his career-best 20th homer, and Ike Davis, who socked his team-leading 32nd.
"Hopefully I'll get a chance to prove next year that I can do better," said Davis, who spent more than two months mired in a slump before beginning to produce regularly in June. "We played a lot of good baseball this year. There's just a couple pieces missing. If a couple things go away, it's a different season."
The Mets also received a long solo shot from Andres Torres who, like Hairston, may not be part of the club's future. Such is the new agenda for the Mets, who said their goodbyes and headed home to New York and California and the Midwest and the Dominican, and plenty of points in between.
With that, the process of improvement officially began. The Mets have already diagnosed their issues in private, with general manager Sandy Alderson constructing a three-pronged plan to combat them.
"Lots of inconsistencies," was Alderson's take on the season, pointing specifically to his club's disparate first and second halves. "Ultimately, the second half was similar to the second half we've had over the last several years. If there's one consistency among those four that we've been able to determine, it's that we really did not see significant contributions from additional players."
"What we do now is you've got to figure out how to get better," said manager Terry Collins, who left immediately for a scouting trip to Port St. Lucie, Fla., one of several he has planned for the offseason. "You've got to figure out the pieces that work, the pieces that don't, how you grade each phase of the game and how you've got to improve it."
The Mets hope that when they put that plan into practice, it will revolve around Wright and R.A. Dickey, two core players entering the option years of their contracts. Alderson stressed his desire to sign both men to long-term extensions, while admitting that he can make no guarantees.
How the Mets proceed over the next few months, then, could play a significant role in shaping the future of the franchise. With one last win in the books, that process starts now.
"We certainly are disappointed in the record," Collins said. "We're not going to put any blame on anybody. We got off to a good start and we changed the atmosphere here. We didn't continue it, but we will."