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Lupica: Mets' long road begins here

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It is spinal stenosis that now informs David Wright's career.Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

It is spinal stenosis that now informs David Wright’s career.

So it starts up again on Sunday night in Kansas City, just over five months — just that — from when the Mets didn’t make it back to Kansas City for Game 6, five months after Eric Hosmer broke for home and Lucas Duda’s throw went sailing towards Manhattan. We start to find out tonight, the beginning of a trip to October that sometimes feels longer than a Presidential campaign, if the Mets can do what the Royals did:

Not just make it back to the World Series, but win it all the way the Royals did, 30 years after the Royals had last won a World Series in 1985. The last time the Mets won the Series also happens to be 30 years ago, in the loud and amazing and unforgettable baseball season of 1986.

And the Mets seem set up to do that, with their loud and amazing staff of young pitchers, and what seems to be enough stick, even with the questions about David Wright’s back, which now become as profound as the questions about Don Mattingly’s back when he was about the same age as Wright is right now, and his career with the Yankees was winding, and grinding, down in front of our eyes.

I am standing with Mattingly at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter this spring, as he watches his Marlins take the field, two decades after his playing career ended for him with that last, loud roar against the Mariners. We are talking about his back, and I mention that everything changed for him with an awkward swing on a cold night in Milwaukee.

Mattingly shakes his head, and says that his back problems began all the way back in high school, but that he played at a time when nobody told you that too much time in the cage and too many swings could catch up with you, and your back, at the back end of your career.

“When I was a kid, I’d just go to the chiropractor,” Mattingly says, “and he’d just pop it back in.”

It is stenosis that now informs Wright’s career, and what is left of it for the captain of the Mets. It is stenosis that has stolen some of his bat speed and some of his prime, and requires hours of preparation just to get him on the field. If you are a Mets fan, you know how high you can grade on paranoia, even in the best of times. But anybody who’s sure how many games David Wright plays at third base this season, raise a hand.

Even with those questions about their captain, the Mets don’t just bring promise to Opening Night, and as much excitement to a new season as they have had since 1987. That was before everything went wrong with the ’87 starting pitching staff, all the way to Ron Darling hurting his thumb in a September game against the Cardinals when the Mets still had a chance. Mets fans of a certain age remember it all. That was the year when we all went from saying, “Who the heck is David Cone?” to “Oh my God, we’ve lost David Cone!” when Atlee Hammaker ran one in on Cone’s pitching hand in a Mets-Giants game.

There is an old baseball expression that covers this, and not just for a team as promising as the ’16 Mets: Stuff happens, even when you have Harvey and deGrom and Syndergaard and Matz, and have Zack Wheeler coming back. Already this spring there have been concerns about deGrom’s velocity, and there was the brief scare this week with blood clots in Harvey’s bladder.

And Cespedes has to stay healthy, and the guys around him have to hit. And the middle infielders have to catch the ball. And the catchers have to find a way to make opposing baserunners feel as if they don’t automatically get second base once they get to first. And the kid, Conforto, has to keep coming.

Then there is the NL East about which to worry, a division that could be a whole lot of fun. It is hard to see Bryce Harper and the Nationals folding like cheap suitcases with Dusty Baker in charge. So the Nationals aren’t going away, and Mattingly has a lot of young talent even if he has hardly any depth. Stuff happens.

But if you are a Mets fan, you don’t choose to join the hand-wringing about spring training, you still vividly remember where you were and where your team was at the trade deadline; when you were basically a .500 team after the first 100 games and still holding out hope that maybe you’d get a bat at the deadline and make a run at the second wild card. You know what happened after that: Everything happened, almost all of it good.

The Mets were in play again, and it was the Yankees on their way to a wild card, and National League New York rose up for the first time in a long time. It was the Mets who would own the city in a baseball October, all the way until Harvey was still out there in the ninth in Game 5, and here came Hosmer breaking for home, about to break hearts in Citi Field.

We had all winter to talk about that and, boy, did we ever. Terry Collins left Harvey out there. I would have left him out there, too. And believed that night that if it were Jeurys Familia starting the top of the ninth that night the Royals would have found a way to get two runs off him. They were that good and that resilient and had been coming from behind on the Mets in the World Series since Game 1, when Alex Gordon hit a home run off Familia and started winning the Series for the Royals right there.

The best part about the Royals was that they played the whole season with a collective chip on their shoulders, remembering how close they had come the year before, Gordon on third base in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 against the Giants. The Mets didn’t come that close. They came close enough.

We now officially know how the Royals came all the way back from the disappointment of October of 2014, all the way to their own big 30th anniversary celebration. Now the Mets try to do the same. The team the Mets play Sunday night is the team they want to be.

Phil’s love of Rambis, the persecution of D’Angelo & Boeheim out to lunch…

– If the Garden is looking for an event for which they could sell tickets and make a ton of money for charity, how about when Phil Jackson goes in and tells Jim Dolan he wants Kurt Rambis to coach the Knicks next season.

For the last time: There is no coaching tree with Phil Jackson.

There’s just Phil.

His idea of a mentoring program is Twitter.

– You know what happens when there’s this kind of over-the-top reaction to something like D’Angelo Russell secretly taping a teammate?

People who get themselves this worked up, and give a 20-year-old kid this kind of flogging in the public square, leave themselves nowhere to go.

If you treat this boneheaded offense from Russell — and it was boneheaded — like the crime of the century, how do you react when something really serious happens in the world of sports?

This is what happens when you’re not expected to bring any sense of proportion to these stories, just outrage and indignation.

And the chance to be really, really loud.

Nobody is excusing what Russell did.

He absolutely did a dumb young-guy thing.

But the idea that has forever ruined his reputation, and that he has committed this shameful offense against the sacred brotherhood of the locker room is sillier than “Scandal.”

– I keep hearing that Chris Christie thinks he’s going to be vice president — of what, Trump Links at Ferry Point?

Maybe there’s a place for Pablo Sandoval in the Trump campaign when Christie is busy, Sandoval is another guy without much to do these days.

“Billions” has just gotten better and better.

So has “Feherty.”

– What audience does Jim Boeheim think he’s playing to when he refers to a nine-game suspension at this stage of his coaching career as a “vacation”?

And the more than 100 wins the NCAA took away from him, what was that? Some kind of tip?

You know how it goes this time of year on television: The announcers talking about what happened with the Syracuse program or that fake African-American studies course the NCAA is investigating at North Carolina is more painful for them than root canal.

– Tiger Woods will get really, really interesting again when he puts a tee in the ground.

Tell me again who – or what – the people who run golf are protecting from anchored putters.

I mostly thought that the reporting on Matt Harvey’s bladder issues was just a case of way too much information.

Way, way too much.

Well, I guess we know who comes out with the puck when Trump’s campaign manager goes into the corner, even if he’s managed to find his way into a women’s hockey game.

– One of these days the NCAA is going to figure out that the Final Four doesn’t have to be played in a domed stadium every year, and bring the thing to Madison Square Garden.

Apparently we can call off the prayer service, they’ve decided to stick with Luther Vandross’ version of “One Shining Moment” on Monday night.

Since they played the national semifinals on Saturday night, I’m just assuming the tournament selection show is finally over.

Since they’re both in Washington, let me put it this way: George Pelecanos writes the way Bryce Harper hits.

The Knicks are starting their “youth movement” now because, well, the All-Star break in baseball would probably have been too late.

Blaming Chris Matthews — as some of the pep-squad members from the right are — for the comments that Donald Trump made about abortion the other night would have been like blaming the motel in the old days when one of those TV evangelists would get caught with a woman not his wife.

Not only did the Boston Celtics end the Warriors’ 54-game home winning streak Friday night, the Celtics should have beaten them in Boston earlier in the season.

Name current members of the Brooklyn Nets and win valuable prizes.

Somebody tell Adam LaRoche to pick up the white courtesy phone.

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