helms_homer.jpgSo today was the final game at Shea Stadium as it turned out.

In the end, it came down to the inability of the Mets’ bullpen to do its job, as all of us who have been following the team’s fortunes since the All-Star break. Perhaps we should have seen it coming when Billy Wagner, the team’s lone selection to this year’s All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, came in with the NL leading and blew the save. But most of us were too entranced at the time by the team’s sudden resuscitation under Jerry Manual.

The athletic sublime wasn’t in evidence at Shea Stadium this afternoon. By all accounts, it could be found in Milwaukee, where C. C. Sabathia turned in a pitching performance for the Brewers on three days’ rest that was only a shade less brilliant than Santana’s for the Mets yesterday.

No need to spend much time rehashing what went wrong for the Mets today. Once again the Florida Marlins ended the Mets season in game 162, though this year it wasn’t the starting pitching that was to blame. (I remember the deflation last year when Glavine gave up all those runs in the first inning.) Today, the Mets made a game of it. Oliver Perez was great for five innings but faltered in the sixth. Joe Smith, brilliant all year at getting out the first man he faced when coming in from the bullpen, walked the first man he faced today. Beltran’s homer picked the team up by tying the game in the bottom of that inning, but the offense wasn’t potent enough to undo the damage from consecutive home runs given by Schoenweis and Ayala in the top of the eighth. Delgado had a chance in the bottom of the inning, with two on and two out, but his fly ball to deep left field wasn’t quite deep enough. Ryan Church came up as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of ninth, but his fly ball to deep center wasn’t deep enough.

The bullpen failed; the offense failed.

In some ways, it’s reminiscent of last year. The Mets were up by 3 1/2 games with seventeen to play; last year it was 7. Last year, John Maine pitched brilliantly in game 161, carrying a no-hitter into the eight, but Glavine couldn’t follow suit. This year, Santana pitched brilliantly, but the rest of the pitching staff couldn’t follow suit. But last year’s free fall was so precipitous that you had to question the team’s effort. Not so this year. The effort was there; the results weren’t.

It’s been both fun and painful to watch this year’s Mets battle the adversity that came with so many injuries and a maddengly inconsistent bullpen. Omar Minaya has a new four-year contract, and he should reward Jerry Manual by making him the team’s permanent manager. And as soon the World Series is over, he should start the process of completely rebuilding the team’s bullpen and figuring out how to strength the offense further.

So now we root for Chicago to make history — twice. First, we root for the Cubs to end their 100-year-long World Series drought. (And I’ll bet my wife, who hails from the Chicago area, is actually glad that a potential Mets-Cubs series has been avoided.) And once that bit of history is made, I’ll be looking forward to another bit of history to be made on November 4, when Chicago’s favorite son, Barack Obama, is elected president of the United States.

(I’m telling you . . . there’s an uncanny connection between U.S. baseball and U. S. politics . . .)

[Photo: AP. Wes Helms ends the Mets’ season]