And when the Mets won it on a groundball single by Jose Reyes that squeaked through the infield, the first seven innings became more about Kaz Ishii than The Rocket. The zeroes produced by the Mets starter were the primary source of the their enhanced sense of well-being.
"The best thing, the most encouraging thing that happened out there," general manager Omar Minaya said during the afterglow.
Ishii hadn't outpitched Clemens so much as he had offset him. The two have their differences, of course. Right-hander Clemens is still a power pitcher at 42; Ishii, a southpaw and 11 years younger, is all about finesse. Ishii threw a pitch at 62 mph, Randy Jones speed, too slow to be hit.
But for seven innings they were so much alike -- no runs, two hits surrendered. Clemens walked one -- he has walked one over 14 innings in his two starts -- and struck out nine, contrasted to Ishii's corresponding figures, three and five.
Catcher Mike Piazza had good things to say about Ishii: "[He pitched] real nice. He expanded the zone and he got sneaky. He kept his pitches down. That's what we were looking for."
Mostly because of Ishii, the Mets won a game started by Clemens after winning successive games started by another former Cy Young Award winner, John Smoltz, and one-time Cy Young runner-up Andy Pettitte.
"You can watch our confidence growing," said Cliff Floyd, who did a lot of watching after straining a chest muscle in his final batting practice swing and spending the game on the bench. "Lots of good things."
Most prominent among the other good things was the work of the bullpen. Roberto Hernandez (one inning), Braden Looper (two innings) and winning pitcher Mike DeJean (one inning) allowed four base runners in four innings.
And then there was Victor Diaz, not the most disciplined batter just yet, working a walk from losing pitcher Dan Wheeler, the former Met, to start the winning rally in the 11th.
"I like to watch the kids learning to win," Minaya said. " Reyes, Diaz, David Wright."
Diaz's walk was followed by a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Chris Woodward that put Reyes in position to be a hero. The shortstop, who struck out twice against Clemens, hit a soft groundball past the dive of shortstop Adam Everett. Second baseman Chris Burke retrieved the ball in short center and made a belated and inaccurate throw to the plate as Diaz scored.
"I'm happy with what I did tonight," Diaz said. "I'm working on my defense [he made a good running catch, going toward the right-field line in the seventh], and I've been trying to be more patient at the plate. Tonight was good for me both ways."
The run he scored prevented the Mets and 'Stros from doing anything historic. These teams played without a run for 22 ininngs almost 37 years ago to the day.
The Astros prevailed, 1-0, April 15, 1968, in Houston. Not even John Franco was around for that one, but Willie Randolph recalled the game. "Stayed up late," he said. "If you were a Mets fan, you stayed up late."
The Mets have played their share of 1-0 games -- 206 of them. They've won 105 of those and lose 101. The last time they played at least 11 innings and had it end 1-0 was Opening Day 1999 -- 14 innings against the Phillies with Alberto Castillo filling the role Reyes played Thursday.
"One-nothing games," Looper said. "No margin for error. They're tough. But when you win them, they make you tougher. They're not a lot of fun unless you do win 'em. But they do make you tougher."