Mets rally for sixth straight win

Mets rally for sixth straight win

NEW YORK -- Ramon Castro, the Mets' understudy catcher, approached Mike Piazza, the Mets' leading-man emeritus, in the clubhouse late on Saturday afternoon. He smiled and added this footnote to New York's 4-3 victory against Florida: "We make a good team," Castro said.

Piazza's assistant had delivered the decisive hit in the ninth inning of the team's sixth straight victory. It had come one inning after a run-scoring double by Piazza had afforded the Mets a one-run lead that would evaporate in the ninth.

"Good tandem" might have been more appropriate phrasing for what they are, the Mets' catcher and relief catcher. "Good team" may apply more fittingly to the 25 men who wear the Mets logo on their work clothes.

Of course, it's too early to say. The Mets weren't as bad as they looked in games 1-5, nor are they as good as they've looked in winning each time since then.

But as Tom Glavine said, after careful examination, "I think we're closer to being the good Mets than the Mets who didn't win."

Closer on Saturday after their rousing victory than they were on Friday night after the Miracle of Aaron Heilman; closer then than they were the previous night, when they exploited John Franco's misfortune; and so on, back to last Sunday, when Pedro Martinez shut down the Braves.

"Each game makes you believe a little more," said Piazza.

This one clearly reinforced the Mets' confidence, because they came from behind to lead once and, after Braden Looper couldn't convert a one-run save opportunity, they asserted themselves a second time and won in their final at-bat for the third time in five games.

They essentially sucker-punched the Marlins. Guillermo Mota retired the first two batters in the ninth. Extra innings seemed unavoidable. But in a blitzkrieg sequence, Victor Diaz doubled to left and, three pitches later, Castro singled to right-center. And Shea Stadium rose to applaud this standup team.

For 7 1/2 innings, the return of Al Leiter to Shea and the home debut of Martinez was a mostly tepid event. Every seat in the venerable ballpark was occupied, but the confrontation of former and current Mets aces hardly filled the place with compelling baseball. Before the Mets' eighth, just three runs had been scored -- one on a double-play ground ball, one on a wild pitch and another on a ground-ball out that followed two other wild pitches.

But then, in the eighth and ninth innings, Shea rocked as if the Beatles had returned.

"It's great to play before a full house," said Martinez. "And it's better to win before all those people. I'm glad we were able to make them happy."

Diaz had initiated the rally in the eighth, too, with a single off Todd Jones. After a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Kaz Matsui advanced Diaz, Jose Reyes struck out. Miguel Cairo walked before Carlos Beltran delivered Diaz with a single to center.

Cairo reached third when Juan Pierre bobbled the ball in center, and he scored on Piazza's double to left center. The RBI was Piazza's fourth in two games and fifth of the season. Perhaps he's not comfortable with emeritus status.

The Mets were in position -- one-run lead, closer summoned.

Perhaps the entire winning experience was enhanced by what developed -- a counter-punch from the Marlins before Castro's knockout.

"We like to give [fans] their money's worth," Piazza said kiddingly. "Give 'em a bottom of the ninth."

The Marlins tied the score when Looper reprised his Opening Day performance, though not so spectacularly or thoroughly. A two-out double by Juan Encarnacion drove in Carlos Delgado one pitch after the Mets had cut down a run at the plate.

"My job is to get the job done, especially after we come battled back like we did," said Looper (1-1), who emerged as the winning pitcher.

But the run was forgiven within minutes because, unlike on Opening Day, there was a chance this time -- no deficit, and an opportunity to offset the damage.

Said David Wright: "The feeling we had was, 'OK, so we'll win it in the ninth.' "

"What we said was, 'So what?' " said Chris Woodward. "There was no panic. It was like starting off 0-5. No panic. We were the most confident 0-5 team I ever saw. And we were confident when we came off the field. It's not like they had a lead."

But shortly thereafter, the Mets had the lead, and Castro had gained some magnitude. He had replaced Piazza after the eighth inning, double-switched into the ninth spot in the order, due to bat only if the bullpen couldn't shut the door.

"Something good happened," he said later, "after something bad happened."

The good was his chance to bat against the Marlins, his lone employer in his six big league seasons until this year.

"I played last year until I got hurt [an injured tendon in his right big toe on June 1]," he said. "There was a lot of emotion to beat them."

Castro might not have had any chance at heroism had Martinez not bounced three of his 107 pitches. Martinez had never thrown three wild pitches in one game in his career, which now totals 391 games and 2,318 innings.

The Marlins scored in the first and fourth innings because of the Mets' first three wild pitches of the season.

Pierre led off the first with a single to center. He advanced to second on a third-pitch wild pitch to Luis Castillo and to third when the subsequent pitch also bounced away from Piazza. Castillo finally was retired on a routine ground ball to second, but Pierre jogged home.

Castillo scored the Marlins' other run after a leadoff single, a stolen base and an infield out that moved him to third. With the infield in, Martinez struck out Delgado, but the inside and low pitch bounced away from Piazza.

"The first one was a cutter that I lost," said Martinez. "But I wanted bounce the other ones. I wanted to keep the breaking balls low."

Martinez exonerated Piazza.

"I'm not the easiest pitcher to catch," he said.

Piazza appreciated the sentiment.

"He told me, 'Hang in there,' " said Piazza. "I'm not the most mobile guy, not as mobile as I was 10 years ago. The one to Delgado -- I thought I had that one corralled. But it got away."

Martinez isn't the easiest pitcher to hit, either. Including the three hits he allowed on Saturday, he has allowed eight in 22 innings, a .108 average. So what would Piazza choose -- to catch Pedro or hit against him?

"Neither," he said.

"No, actually, I love catching him. It's an honor to catch him.

"But it is a learning process."

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.