NEW YORK -- For the Mets, 2012 began no differently than 2011: with talk of lawsuits and Ponzi schemes dominating their day-to-day operations.

It ended quite differently. By Christmas, the Mets had settled their Bernard Madoff litigation, paid back loans, signed David Wright to a record-setting contract extension and expressed a willingness to increase payroll as soon as next season. So many of last year's most pressing questions had disappeared, leaving the Mets focused on the field at every level.

Year in Review
Looking back at 2012
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Final standings
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Whether that played a role in their dynamic early-season run is impossible to say. But behind Wright's resurgent April, R.A. Dickey's incredible June (and season), and Johan Santana's return from surgery to make club history, the Mets ranked among the feel-good stories in baseball over the first three months in the season. Though they tailed off toward summer's end, that hot start -- along with late-season contributions from Matt Harvey and Ike Davis -- gave them reason to believe things might be different in 2013.

And maybe they will. But before the current year officially ends, it's time to look back at the top five storylines of 2012:

5. Settlement in place, Mets move on

Though the Mets reported to Port St. Lucie, Fla., as usual in mid-February, many eyes remained trained on New York, where owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz had a court date scheduled with the trustee seeking to recover funds from Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. That litigation went on for more than a year.

Clarity finally came in mid-March, when the Mets avoided their court date by settling their lawsuit for $162 million, payable within three years. The agreement also made it possible for Mets owners to recoup some or all of that money in the future.

Less than 12 hours later, the Mets officially sold 12 minority ownership shares for $20 million each and repaid two outstanding loans, positioning themselves on significantly stronger financial footing than they had stood just days earlier. By season's end, general manager Sandy Alderson was talking about raising payroll in the short term as well as the long-term future. Litigation no longer dominated headlines for the Mets, who could focus solely on baseball for the first time in recent memory.

4. For three unexpected months, Mets make a run

Almost universally last winter, pundits around baseball picked the Mets to finish dead last in the NL East, pegging them as one of the league's worst overall teams. And though the Mets did ultimately finish fourth in the division, for three surprising months they were a hot topic within the game.

Dickey, who was traded on Dec. 18 for a package of Blue Jays prospects, provided the pitching. Wright provided the hitting, and the Mets more than held their own from April through June, actually leading the NL Wild Card race on the morning of July 7. That prompted talk of Alderson actually adding pieces to the roster prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

But plans changed, and rapidly, when the Mets lost 12 of 13, beginning the day before the All-Star break, dropping too far out of contention to make another serious run. Though their poor second half left the Mets wondering where they went wrong, their hot start also gave them hope that they can mimic the Orioles' full-season run next summer.

3. David Wright, Met for life

From Tom Seaver to Dwight Gooden to Mike Piazza, none of the brightest stars in Mets history have spent their entire careers with the franchise. Wright set about changing that in November, when he agreed to a new eight-year, $138-million contract that will keep him in Flushing through 2020.

Though Wright had another season remaining on the multi-year deal he signed back in 2006, the Mets made inking him to an extension their top offseason priority. The two sides finally reached an agreement well past midnight on the final Friday of November, negotiating deep into the night.

Wright showed up to the Winter Meetings five days later and told the tale of how the Mets convinced him to stick around long term, answering all his concerns about the organization's finances and baseball operations plan. A Mets fan since his youth in Virginia, Wright is now committed to the Mets for the next eight years -- and vice-versa.

2. Two one-hitters and one Cy Young

A month before reporting to Spring Training, Dickey climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Two months later, Dickey released his autobiography, in which he detailed his long slog through the Minors, his near-death experience in the Missouri River and his history as a sexual assault victim. Another month after that, Dickey starred in a documentary about his signature pitch, the knuckleball.

Then he went about laying waste to the National League, visibly improving both his skill set and results from seasons past. What the knuckleballer did from late May through the end of August was not only crucial to his ultimately winning the NL Cy Young Award, but it was also unlike any previous run of success by a knuckleballer in big league history.

Dickey fired back-to-back one-hitters in June, reeled off streaks of 32 2/3 innings without a run and 44 2/3 innings without an earned run, became the Mets' first 20-game winner in nearly a quarter-century and led the league in innings, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. The Cy Young only iced his status as one of the game's elite pitchers, though Mets fans can no longer call him their own. Three months after the season ended, the Mets traded Dickey to Toronto in Travis d'Arnaud, John Buck and Wulimer Beccera in return.

1. "No-han" Santana rewrites Mets history

Until this summer, perhaps the strangest quirk of franchise history was the fact that a team so well-known for its pitching staffs had never enjoyed a no-hitter. The Mets certainly saw their share of close calls, and watched multiple former Mets leaving the team only to make history elsewhere. But never had a pitcher fired a no-hitter while wearing their uniform -- not Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine or any of the other great pitchers to wear blue and orange.

That all changed on the first Friday in June, when Santana climbed atop the Citi Field mound and, less than two years removed from the left shoulder surgery that threatened to end his career, became the first Mets pitcher to throw a no-no. Santana's gem required a leaping grab at the left-field fence by Mike Baxter and a fortuitous foul call by umpire Adrian Johnson, making it all the more memorable.

But it came at a price. As Santana was putting the finishing touches on his no-hitter, manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen were fretting in the dugout about whether to let him continue as his pitch count rose to 134. In retrospect, whether coincidentally or not, their concern was justified; Santana, who was an All-Star candidate at the time of his no-hitter, posted an 8.27 ERA the rest of the way and finished his third consecutive season on the disabled list.