So they reveled in the modest success they had accomplished, an 8-4 victory against the Nationals. Given the descent of the last week and the hints of dissent that surfaced,
this victory was special. In this city, it rightfully could be called monumental.
After five consecutive losses in which their bullpen routinely undermined them, the Mets finally got some relief. And Jorge Sosa, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner pitched well, too.
Only everything changed on this night -- their mood and their magic number, their sense of a self and renewed sense of superiority.
"We are the best team in the National League," Wagner said.
The first-place Mets had been sickened by what they considered a poorly-timed and embarrassing aberration in their season. Five straight losses in September, three to the second-place team, can leave a permanent stain on a resume. For now, they constitute only a blemish.
"And if we do what the Cardinals did last year," Wagner said, "come out of this and go on [a roll] here and win it all, we'll look back on these games and say, 'They made us stronger.'"
Isn't it remarkable what one victory can do?
"Winning is so cool." Wagner said. "I'd give up 10 runs every day if we could win, 11-10. When you don't win for a while, you appreciate it when you do."
Another loss might would have been so damaging -- particularly if the Phillies had won Wednesday night. Moises Alou had admitted he was worried Tuesday, so worried that he played Wednesday, knowing his troubled legs might have been at risk.
"We really didn't want to lose another one," Alou said.
But with David Wright driving in three runs and Paul Lo Duca and Luis Castillo two each, and with Alou extending his hitting streak to 23 games, the Mets supported Mike Pelfrey in a manner in which he is not accustomed and put some distance between themselves and the Phillies. When the Phillies lost in St. Louis, the Mets lead increased -- to 2 1/2 games -- for the first time since Sept. 12. The clinching number dropped to a single digit. And nine seems so much less than 10.
They could ignore the Phillies' charge for at least one day "because we finally took care of business," Lo Duca said.
If there was a negative aspect on this night of reversals, it was that Lo Duca was removed from the game in the eighth inning after being struck on the first knuckle of his right ring finger by a pitch that was ruled a swinging strike. X-rays were negative, but until they had been read, Lo Duca was more scared than sore.
"It hurt bad. I thought it could be broken," the catcher said. "I didn't want my season to end that way."
Moreover, Lo Duca has plans -- non-matrimonial -- for that finger.
"We are a good team. But this game tests you in every way. It tests everything you trust and believe. It challenges you. That's why we all feel so good. We accepted the challenge and we came out still standing. Winning is so cool."
-- Billy Wagner
By the time Lo Duca was removed, Pelfrey and the Mets' batting order had done more of their work. Pelfrey (3-7) had gained his third straight victory and banked some credibility with his teammates with his bend-but-don't-break performance. The right-hander allowed nine hits, three walks and three runs in five-plus innings.
"And I banked a little run support, too," Pelfrey said.
The Mets had scored more than five runs once in his 11 previous starts.
They changed their MO for the third game of the series. No 4-0 lead this time; that didn't work in the first two games.
"For the first time, we didn't take a 4-0 lead, and I felt good." Alou said.
Instead, they scored once in the second inning and, after the Nationals had scored twice in the bottom of the inning, once again in the third. The first of Alou's three hits and the first of Lo Duca's two sacrifice flies produced the first run, and Wright's single scored the second. The RBI was Wright's 100th this season, and he had two others later.
Wright's hit drove in Jose Reyes, who had led off the inning with a double of distinction, a fly ball down the left-field line that reached the top of the bullpen fence -- despite a leaping attempted catch by Wily Mo Pena -- and became wedged under the padding atop the fence as Reyes sped around the bases. He was ordered back to second base, affording Wright the opportunity to produce his third straight season of at least 100 RBIs.
"That's what's supposed to happen," Wagner said. "We are a good team. But this game tests you in every way. It tests everything you trust and believe. It challenges you. That's why we all feel so good. We accepted the challenge and we came out still standing. Winning is so cool."