"Between the lines, it's dead serious," former Mets reliever Roger McDowell once said. "Everywhere else, it's a carnival."
Before the Mets emerged with a 5-3 victory on Saturday night, they and those fun-loving Astros played 17 innings and made the scoreboard look like a parade of bagels. Need more be said?
"It got very silly in here," Tom Glavine said, his face almost in a permanent smile.
Glavine and his chance to gain the 298th victory of his career were long gone by the time 17th-inning RBI singles by Carlos Beltran and David Wright delivered the decisive runs in the Mets' win. Nineteen scoreless half-innings had passed, each team trying anything within the rules to achieve a crooked number.
In the visiting clubhouse, Glavine was doing anything -- within the rules or beyond the norm -- to create the necessary karma.
"You're in here looking for a seat or a location that'll have some runs in it," Glavine said.
And when that didn't materialize, Glavine turned to the souvenir football helmets in the office of visiting clubhouse manager Steve Perry and slid his graying 41-year-old head into them.
"Notre Dame didn't work," Glavine said. "Patriots -- autographed by [Drew] Bledsoe -- nothing. ... But the Earl Campbell Oilers helmet -- that worked. Should have tried it on earlier."
Alas, for most of the five-hour, nine-minute game, the Mets had relied on more traditional baseball means to fend off the team that once shared the Astrodome with Campbell's Oilers: quality relief pitching, sweet defense and a piece of utter defensive genius by Beltran. That formula worked until Glavine morphed into a running back, Jose Reyes walked, Ruben Gotay singled him to third and Beltran and Wright put base hits in the outfield and runs Nos. 4 and 5 on the board.
"Carlos made a nice catch," Glavine said. "But I'm sure it was the helmet."
The catch, in the 14th inning with two runners on base and the game in the balance, had no mystical powers. It was merely physical, stunningly brilliant and a tad courageous, too. To handle Luke Scott's 430-foot-plus fly ball, Beltran had to climb the hill in dead center field, Tal's Hill as they call it here -- that perilous, grass-covered piece of distinctive real estate authorized by former Astros general manager Tal Smith, which is the bane of existence to any center fielder who's ever backpedaled there.
Manager Willie Randolph called it "silly," "crazy" and "unorthodox." Others use the language's most popular present participle as a modifier. A man with a softer lexicon, Beltran thought it was enough to acknowledge that he would exclude a hill if he were ever asked to design a ballpark.
"What's it in there for?" Beltran said.
The hill was part of Beltran's jurisdiction when he played three months for the Astros in 2004. Like it or not, he was familiar with its location, incline and composition.
"Used to work on it every day with [Astros coach] Jose Cruz when I was here," Beltran said. "I took flies out there on that hill. You don't know if you're ever going to need it. Today, I did, and I was happy I could save the game.
"You have to change the way you run -- pick your knees up higher. If you don't, you'll fall down."
His knees were bent and his glove was away from his body when he achieved the 42nd of the 51 outs the Mets needed to end their longest game -- by innings -- since 1993, while also picking up a much-needed win for the second time in seven games.
Beltran recalled the leaping catch he made here against the wall in left-center last September. That one wasn't an uphill battle.
"This one was tougher," he said.
With that rally defused, the Astros managed three more baserunners -- two against winning pitcher Aaron Sele (2-0) in the 15th inning and one against Billy Wagner, the Mets' eighth pitcher in the 17th frame. Wagner earned his 17th save after warming up nine times.
"They told me I threw 12 pitches each time," he said. "What's that? 108 [pitches]? My first complete game in the big leagues."
But almost everyone did something. Sandy Alomar Jr., the third catcher, was the only unused position player. The only unused pitchers were starters. Wright made a handsome 5-5-3 double play to end the 15th. Joe Smith twice extricated himself from trouble -- some of it his own doing, some of it not. The pitch that hit his first batter, Craig Biggio (monogram HBP) -- in the back of the calf -- was good for a laugh. Reyes stole the 200th base of his career and ran out his outs. Glavine invoked the ground game and got the tough yardage.
And that was just in eight extra innings that created the second 17-inning big-league game this season and the ninth in Mets' history. They played more innings on Saturday than they had in any game since a 1-0 loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 29, 1993.
The first nine were relatively normal. The 14th home run of Carlos Delgado's uneven season -- he hit it at 7:07 p.m. CT on 7-7-07 -- provided two runs in the fifth after Wright led off the inning with a single, his first hit of the series. Delgado's career home run total increased to 421, 39th best in history, and his 2007 RBI total reached 49, surprising for a player batting .207 with runners in scoring position.
Wright hit his 16th home run to lead off the seventh inning to tie the score at 3. He leads the team with 16 dingers, and he now has 51 RBIs, two fewer than Beltran, two more than Delgado. His home run was the 21st surrendered by starting pitcher Woody Wiliams, the most in the National League.
Glavine, who allowed six runs in one inning, faced nine batters in the first three innings on Saturday, allowing one hit. But he allowed three runs in a six-batter sequence in the fourth frame. Had he donned the necessary head gear earlier, Glavine might have moved to the cusp of No. 300. But that wasn't a consideration after five-plus hours. The Mets were too giddy to care about much by then.
"You get numb, and you get silly," Glavine said.
Wagner still was silly after he had showered.
"I'm tired. I'm sore. I've got nothing left," he said. "If they tied it, I would have just run off the field and gone home. But believe me, they weren't scoring two. If they got any, they were getting three and we all go home."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.