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Mets clinch sweep in wild 14th frame

Mets clinch sweep in wild 14th frame

NEW YORK -- The Mets and Nationals had turned into after-hours clubs on Thursday. Leno and Letterman already had delivered their monologues, and the teams already had played long and late. All that remained was to play until early and create an ending. And as each Mets rally fizzled, the prospect of early became increasingly likely, while the likelihood of an ending became unlikely.

And oh, did the Mets have opportunities to put this one out of its misery. They crowded the bases in extra innings. Five extra innings produced 10 baserunners and seemed destined to beget five zeroes, until the Nationals took their cooperation to the next level.

The Mets had a dozen potential heroes Thursday night -- likely and unlikely. Any one of them could have reprised the role of hero that Angel Pagan had filled one week earlier and delivered the euthanasia ending. But it was left to the Nationals, specifically reliever Joel Hanrahan, to apply the final coat of absurdity to this extended engagement.

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He did so in his third inning, as fatigue and giddiness were overtaking both teams. The Mets finally prevailed, completing a three-game sweep with a 3-2, 14-inning victory because Hanrahan essentially threw for the cycle. After the Mets had proven themselves incapable of decisive offensive action, Hanrahan intervened.

The short recap is this: He allowed a single, wild-pitched the runner to second, directed him to third with an errant pickoff throw and then threw a second wild pitch that allowed the third run to score. Who did what for the Mets was almost incidental. On this night, the Nationals could have lost to anyone.

The Mets players involved in the final stages were: • Damion Easley, who led off the 14th with his second extra-inning hit and finally scored.
• Jose Reyes, who popped up a bunt attempt.
• Ryan Church, the intent former National, who struck out after Easley had reached third base on the first wild pitch and the error.
• Third-base coach Sandy Alomar, who, despite Hanrahan's mistakes, still advised Easley to "be aware for a pitch in the dirt that gets away."
• David Wright and Carlos Delgado, who were purposely walked to load the bases and afford the final scene more characters and drama.
• Brian Schneider, another former National and the Mets' final available position player, who watched, bat in hands, as Hanrahan's final pitch -- his 38th and the team's 254th -- bounced to the backstop.
And then it was over -- after four hours, 45 minutes. After the Mets had turned nine hits, eight walks and three Nationals errors into three runs. After their own bullpen had allowed merely three hits in seven innings. After Willie Randolph had cleared the bench and left Scott Schoeneweis alone in the bullpen.

After Nelson Figueroa had pitched splendidly for seven innings in his second start. After Delgado had tied the score at 2 with a single in the eighth inning. After the Mets had gone hitless in 13 other at-bats with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base.

After all that and more, the longest game of the Mets' season came to an end.

Mercy.

"It was a pretty ugly game -- it's as simple at that," Randolph said, and no one disputed that assessment.

"But it got better looking at the end," Easley said.

And when cast against the image of an alternate ending, it looked much better.

"I don't want to think how it'd feel if we lost," Billy Wagner said, and he acknowledged losing would have hurt more than winning helped.

The Mets liked the idea of the sweep, their first this season, coming as it did after their eyesore loss to the Brewers on Sunday. And they knew it looked better to go to Philadelphia for three weekend games with an 8-6 record than show up at 7-7.

Not that 500 didn't have its place in this one. The game was Randolph's 500th as a manager, the victory his 276th. It's not the one he'll recall for its aesthetic value, but he did find the Mets' perseverance rewarding.

Finding the positives amid all those LOBs and squandered chances wasn't easy or fun. But Delgado delivered a well-struck, two-out single in the eighth to create the tie that necessitated all that followed.

And Figueroa was quietly effective, even with the two-run home run Nick Johnson crushed in the fourth inning. And the bullpen, the manager said, was great. It had to be.

The Mets had done little until the eighth, when an error by Ronnie Belliard allowed Church to reach base with two out. A walk to Wright prompted Nats manager Manny Acta to summon Jon Rauch to face Delgado. Batting fourth because Carlos Beltran hadn't started, Delgado lined a 2-2 pitch over the shift into right field to tie the score and spare Figueroa a possible loss.

After hitting three home runs Tuesday, the Mets had only a run-scoring double by Church and two singles against left-handed rookie John Lannon, who struck out 11 batters in six innings. Figueroa pitched seven innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out seven. His workday marked the third straight game in which the Mets' starter has exceeded six innings, the first time that has happened since June 22-24 last season, when Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and John Maine did so in a sweep of the A's.

The lone mistake Figueroa made happened after he struck out Belliard and Ryan Zimmerman singled off his right leg in the fourth. Figueroa resumed pitching after a momentary pause and had a 2-2 count on Johnson, when the Nationals first baseman crushed his second run of the season. It bounced once in the Mets' bullpen before reaching the back wall.

The home run, the second by the Nationals in the series, was the ninth allowed by the Mets in nine home games. They have hit seven on the season, four in the three games against the Nationals.

But nothing flew too long last night.

"You're not going to win, slugging it out each night," Easley said.

But he agreed that course of action might have been easier.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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