Score tied, Pirates batting, Oliver Perez battling.
The game had reached the point at which the better team usually asserts itself and squashes the resistance. Off what they had witnessed through five innings, the Mets had every reason to expect Perez to throw some nasty slider to Xavier Nady and walk off to a shady seat in the dugout, the 1-1 tie intact. He had struck out eight batters, and the Pirates had merely three hits to that point -- a soft infield single, a broken-bat base hit and a butcher-boy infield hit.
Time had come dispose of the Buccos and get back to the business of sweeping them out of Shea Stadium.
Only then Nady pulled the not-so-nasty slider off the knee of David Wright, driving in two runs, changing the direction the game and reminding the guys in the Mets' dugout why, almost one year later, they still lament his departure.
The Mets hardly needed a reminder of Nady's value as a run producer. His RBIs have been conspicuously absent this season, made so by the ongoing struggles of the Carlos Brothers. He provided one nonetheless, putting in motion the force that would create an 8-4 Pirates victory.
Nady swung, the baseball ricocheted off Wright's knee with some pinball characteristics and, as Buddy Harrelson used to say, the wheels fell off.
The chance for a sweep of the last-place team in the National League Central deteriorated into the Mets' seventh loss in 24 games against teams from the Have-Not Division and into a reminder that the re-creation of Perez is not yet complete. Funny how it works; Nady was the player the Mets dealt to acquire Perez and Roberto Hernandez hours before the trading deadline last summer.
His hit came after Perez had all but extricated himself from jeopardy of his own making. The Pirates' second hit, a leadoff single by Nate McLouth was followed by a butcher-boy bouncer hit by winning pitcher Paul Maholm over Wright's head. Then Cesar Izturis bunted down the third-base line, intent on putting two Pirates in scoring position.
Perez handled the ball cleanly, but his throw down the right-field line allowed McLouth to tie the score, Maholm to reach third and the bunter to advance to second. But Perez, still dominating retired Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay on pop ups, the second a handsome running play Ruben Gotay in short right field. And then he had Nady at 2-2 with first base open.
Nady was merely the third-most efficient batter in the league with two outs and runners in scoring position. By the time the game ended, his batting average in those circumstances was .413 (Delgado is batting .162 and Beltran .111 in those situations).
Perez (9-7) and catcher Ramon Castro discussed their options.
"He just told mre to just be careful because we had first base open," Perez said. "And that's why I tried to throw it down to the ground. I mis-threw the ball and he hit the ball, and there's nothing I can do about that."
The ball struck Wright soundly on the outside of his right knee. He might have caught it, so might Clete Boyer. But neither would be thought Wright for not making the play.
"I should have put my glove in a different place," Wright said. "Then it wouldn't have hurt."
But the play not made didn't mean Perez couldn't retire his next batter. He didn't. Josh Phelps hit a two-run home run, and this one turned against the home team.
"You got to be able to manage those at-bats after the error," Willie Randolph said. "You have to stay in control and minimize the damage. We didn't do that."
More wheels came off in the seventh when the Pirates scored three times against Scott Schoeneweis and Joe Smith. Smith allowed three inherited runners to score, surrendering hits to three of his four batters. He was optioned to Triple-A after the game.
Maholm allowed three runs in six innings, one coming on Lastings Milledge's third home run. Jose Reyes hit his seventh home run, against Shawn Chacon, in the eighth. Maholm (7-13 this season) has beaten the Mets three times in four starts since the beginning last season.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.