Then the Mets got their first live look at the best record in the game, and they immediately defaced it.
Playing the part of the '05 Braves -- the team with a greater resume -- the Mets extended their collective foot and tripped the Brewers, winning a home run-hitting contest, 5-4, ending the visitor's winning streak at six games and pushing their own record 10 victories over .500 for the first time. They enjoyed the role they played.
Their seventh victory in nine games included home runs by Wright, Carlos Delgado and Damion Easley -- Easley's, in the seventh inning, was decisive. And there was effective pitching by understudy Jorge Sosa and one-glitch relief -- a pretty big glitch, though -- by Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. A well-rounded demonstration of superiority.
"I think we showed 'em a lot of what we've got," Wagner said.
Still, it wasn't lost on the Mets that the Brewers came from four runs down to add an unwanted degree of suspense to the ninth inning.
"They fought back like we do," manager Willie Randolph said.
It's far too early -- both in the season and in this three-game series -- to draw anything more than parallels. Wait until at least midsummer to draw conclusions, but the Mets clearly recognized they had been in a competitive game. They savored the challenge as much as the evening of success.
Wright, who is familiar with some of the Brewers' young talent from his Minor League experiences and his trip to Japan last fall, called it a "fun game."
"They're like us," Wright said. "They smile in the dugout, they look like they enjoy playing. Some teams get so serious."
No matter their expressions, the Brewers appear to be quite serious. The two-run homer that J.J. Hardy hit off Heilman in the eighth inning to create the final score indicated as much. They had scored against Sosa in the fifth and sixth innings on well-struck home runs by Geoff Jenkins and Prince Fielder, respectively. The latter left Shea at something approaching the speed of light.
The Mets' seventh victory in 13 games at Shea Stadium came at the expense of Jeff Suppan, the pitcher who undermined their chances of reaching the World Series last year. Wright and Delgado hit their third home runs against Suppan (5-3) in the fourth inning, when the Mets scored four times. Suppan allowed six hits and a walk in six innings.
Sosa reprised his role as the suitable substitute and seemingly enhanced his chances of retaining a place in the rotation when Orlando Hernandez ends his assignment to the disabled list, possibly next week. Sosa (2-0) made his second start in Hernandez's stead and again pitched into the seventh inning. He allowed four hits and three walks and struck out four -- a far cry from the emergency work of Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez last season.
As well as Sosa pitched, Feliciano's cameo appearance -- one batter, one strikeout -- and Wagner's clean ninth were equally eye-catching. Feliciano inherted two runners from Sosa and, for the 12th time in 15 appearances, retired his first batter. Two of the 11 runners he has inherited have scored.
Wagner pitched his third straight clean inning, gaining his third save in three games and his ninth in nine opportunities.
"I threw one hanging slider and two fastballs right over, [and] they made three outs," he said. "Tomorrow I'll throw one on the knees and on the inside corner, and someone will take me deep. ... It happens that way."
Perhaps it's karma, the Mets suggested playfully. They have won three of three since they shaved their heads, and have played quite well in each.
"If we can get a long run out of [the group haircut], we'll be happy to keep it short all year," Easley said.
Even though the stubbly look has made the Mets noticeably less photogenic?
"Looks," Wagner said, "are overrated."
Then he noted that Jose Reyes still hadn't been to the barber.
"No hits tonight for Jose," Wagner said, noting the end of Reyes' hitting streak at 14 games. "He doesn't have the karma. He'll come around. I mean, what would you rather have -- hair or hits?"