Though the Mets are 117 games into their season, they still have a sense that they have yet to find the right recipe. "We'll get it going when the offense starts to be more consistent," manager Willie Randolph said.
The Mets' perspective is consistent with what Tom Glavine said at the All-Star break, "I'll be shocked if we've played our best baseball already." And after they finally handled the fourth-place Marlins on Sunday, that thought still seemed apropos.
The margin of victory aside, the Mets' performance was adequate and unremarkable. With Moises Alou hitting two home runs for the third time this season and Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado hitting one each, the Mets survived another inadequate start by Oliver Perez, their own sloppy defense and another demonstration of resistance -- albeit short-lived -- by a mediocre team.
Their second victory in the now-completed six-game homestand assured them of retaining a lead of at least 2 1/2 games in the National League East. And that was enough after they had lost three straight.
The bullpen, responsible for the losses in the first two games of the series, provided four scoreless innings, two by Jorge Sosa and one each by Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner. The relief pitching and the four-ply power made the overall performance look better than it was.
After all, Perez had been ineffective for his fourth straight start, and the Mets presented a two-errors-on-one-play blemish, plus an inning in which two wild pitches and a play not made at the plate helped the Marlins score three times. Moreover, there was little sustained offense until the eighth inning, when they scored five time against relievers Taylor Tankersley and Ross Wolf. The first seven runs scored on the four home runs, which equaled a season high.
"The way we came through most of this [homestand], this was fine," Wagner said. "You never say, 'No' to winning. But we've been struggling. We should have won two games in each series [against the Braves and Marlins]. So when you win one -- the last game of the series -- you don't care how it looks."
Alou hit his seventh home run with two outs in the sixth inning against Lee Gardner, the first reliever to follow rookie starter Rick VandenHurk. That home run made Gardner (3-3) the losing pitcher and Sosa (8-6) the winner. Delgado hit his 18th homer after a leadoff walk to David Wright in the eighth inning against Tankersley. All sense of tension was eliminated at that point. The Marlins played sloppily, while the Mets added three runs.
Because of how the first two games unfolded, the first seven innings had tension. Perez surrendered a home run to his first batter, Hanley Ramirez, and three runs in the third inning, when he was guilty of two wild pitches and Ramon Castro didn't make a play at the plate.
The Mets had led 3-1 before that rally, their runs scoring on the team's 14th three-run home run of the season, Alou's first. And they would tie the scored at 4 in the third on Reyes' ninth home run. And Alou created his third two-home run game -- he has started only 43 games -- when he pulled a pitch from Gardner to left.
The later stages also were tinged with suspense. Castro's back pained him -- he has arthritis -- after a play at the plate in the third. Mike DiFelice, summoned from Triple-A New Orleans on Saturday night when Paul Lo Duca was injured, replaced Castro to start the fourth. The Mets had no real alternate if DiFelice were to get hurt. "That's why it good to have someone like Mike," Aaron Sele said. "You have to kill him to get off the field."
David Newhan, who has never caught in the big leagues, was thought to be the emergency catcher. But he pinch-hit for Perez in the fifth inning. Damion Easley, apparently next in line and unaware of that distinction, pinch-hit for Sosa in the seventh.
"We were talking about it after David pinch-hit," Easley said. "Neither of us has equipment. What were they going to do?"
Sele and Heilman decided any reliever who pitched would have to catch the following inning. Randolph said Delgado would have been pressed into service. Delgado caught in one game in 1993 and another in '94 -- five innings total. The manager said, "He's got experience and we can get him the equipment." What Delgado lacked was the inclination. "No way, not even close," he said.
General manager Omar Minaya had caught, as had Randolph, though not as a professional. And Heilman carries a catcher's mitt in his travel bag. "I was going to be a pitcher or a catcher," Heilman said. But his knees chose pitching. They might have chosen shaking if he had been pressed into service.