This one was decided by a long, arching base hit by David Wright -- with the bases filled and Shea all but empty -- that resisted the wind currents long enough to short-hop the wall in the right-field corner and drive home Endy Chavez. An odd-looking, quite uncharacteristic single for a player who prefers to be a machine. "But I'll take it no matter what it looked like," Wright said. He hadn't had all that many -- handsome or ugly -- of late anyway.
A leadoff single by Chavez, a balk, a sacrifice bunt by Marlon Anderson, an intentional walk to Jose Reyes and a walk to Luis Castillo preceded Wright's game-winning hit.
The need for extra innings wouldn't have developed if either of the performances by the two most effective relievers in the Mets' bullpen had been consistent with what they had done previously. Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner had combined to pitch 16 2/3 scoreless innings before Tuesday. "They'd been lights-out," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
But the lights came on. Sanchez allowed a run before escaping the eighth inning, and Wagner allowed a run, albeit unearned, in the ninth and failed to convert a save opportunity for the first time in seven tries this season.
"We both were gonna screw up sooner or later," Wagner said. "Of course we both did it on the same night. Of course."
Moreover, all the Pirates runs came against the three pitchers who, arguably, had been the Mets' most effective through two dozen games. The first two runs, each he result of a home run, came against starter Johan Santana. Go figure.
And, of course, it all happened against a last-place team with a poor road record -- now 4-9. "No one ever has figured out this game," Randolph said. But at least Bill Virdon, the former Pirates
manager, had a name for the why of it all -- hidden gibberish.
Wagner had allowed one hit in 10 innings before a throwing error by Reyes, his fifth error of the season, allowed pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit to reach base to start the ninth-inning rally. A wild pitch and an infield out put pinch-runner Brian Bixler on third base. Freddy Sanchez then drove in Bixler with a soft, two-out single to right-center.
"I'll bet you I've blown more saves against them [the Pirates] than any other team," Wagner said. "Something always happens. They always do something."
The Mets had to sweat through the seventh and eighth innings. The seventh ended when reliever Scott Schoeneweis tagged out Jose Bautista at the plate when the Pirates third baseman attempted to score on a pitch that had bounced past catcher Raul Casanova. Bautista appeared to miss the plate with his hands-first slide. But even if he was safe, the Mets battery had executed perfectly a play that seldom succeeds. Casanavo had partially blocked an inside pitch -- he had set up outside -- and retrieved the ball quickly, some 25 feet from the plate. His quick throw allowed Schoeneweis to apply the tag quickly.
"Do we ever practice that just like they did it?" Wagner wanted to know.
"No, but we're all tremendous athletes -- don't forget it," Schoeneweis said. "If they keep track of web gems for pitchers, I'm right there. Of course, I might have hurt myself in four places."
The eighth inning had ended with the bases loaded and the Pirates having scored once against Sanchez on a bases-loaded walk to Adam LaRoche. Duaner Sanchez retired Bautista and Ronny Paulino to escape more damage.
The Mets, hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position until Wright's bases-loaded swing against losing pitcher John Van Benschoten, might have had a wider margin for error, but for a call by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Damaso Marte to Ryan Church with the bases loaded in the fifth. The pitch appeared off the plate by inches. Church jumped away in frustration before Marte struck out Carlos Delgado too.
The Mets already had scored twice in the inning, Reyes driving in the first run with a triple and scoring the second run when second baseman Freddy Sanchez dropped a routine flip to on what appeared to be a likely double play. The error was he 29th by the team that leads the league in misplays.
Reyes reached base six times in six plate appearances and scored once. He walked three times after walking five times in his first 22 games. "When your leadoff man gets on six times, you should score more," Randolph said. "We've got get better in those situations."
A home run by Church and the runs in the fifth had put the Mets and Santana in position to win. Church hit his third home run, with a runner on base, against Pirates starter Ian Snell in the fourth to tie the score at 2. He wanted the bases-loaded walk in the fifth, too. "One more run right there," he said, "And it's a shorter night."