Efficient Johan lifts Mets over Yanks

Efficient Johan lifts Mets over Yanks

NEW YORK -- Drama has a way of deepening here in the Bronx, where every minor issue seems to tumble into a major one. When Mets closer Billy Wagner criticized the accountability of his teammates following Thursday afternoon's loss to the Nationals, the Mets entered into full crisis mode, assuaging fears the following evening and insisting that they were fine. That they were more than fine. That the Bronx was not burning, and neither was Queens.

But that's all just talk, of course, and a skeptical public need not believe it. So while the Mets sat idle on Friday night and chewed over what had happened the previous day -- and the previous week, and the previous year -- they could do little to provide concrete proof that they were, in fact, all right. Empty words were all they could offer.

Then came the game. Saturday's game, to be precise -- their chance at redemption.

"We needed to get a win in the worst way," manager Willie Randolph said.

So they did. Thoroughly and almost clinically, the Mets dispatched of the Yankees, pitching well enough and hitting well enough to prove that they could still be those Mets of old. Their 7-4 win was the most decisive evidence that they had provided in quite some time.

"It was great just to be able to go out and play the game we play," center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "I think we did everything perfect."

Well, not perfect, but a whole lot better than they had in this week's series against the Nationals. And that's just the point. This was the type of game that the Mets knew they could win and knew they had to start winning. They proved, at least on this day, that they were a better team than the Yankees, and they sure made it seem like they could continue to prove it in the future. They seemed healthy. They seemed whole.

It started, as all games of this caliber start, with the pitching. Randolph tapped Johan Santana, the man his Mets had acquired for games like these, and Santana delivered. Far from perfect, and allowing four runs in all, Santana still gave his team a chance to win.

"That's what I'm here for," Santana said. "That's what I want to do. I know exactly what my role is, and every time they want me to get the ball, I'll just try to do it. I'm here to help this team win games, and I'm pretty sure everybody feels the same way. Every time I go out there, I'm trying to make it very special."

It was special, if only because it was a cure. Regardless of how they perceived the events of this past week, these Mets were reeling from a media crush that saw local newspapers first vilify Wagner for calling out his teammates on Thursday, then rip Randolph for doing nothing publicly to stop it. Some vented. Some called for Randolph's job.

The Mets, in part because they had been losing -- three of four to the Nationals, and eight of 14 dating back to last month -- couldn't say a whole lot to defend themselves. "We'll get 'em next time" and "There's always tomorrow" only hold so much weight, and the Mets, rained out of Friday night's series opener, couldn't back it up on the field.

Their chance instead had to wait until Saturday, and they seized it. In nine innings, so many of their troubles melted away, simply because they played with a certain crispness that they recently had lacked. Little in baseball can heal like a well-deserved win.

Wagner, playing his own starring role, entered the game with one man on base in the eighth inning and proceeded to end the threat. He pitched a scoreless ninth for the four-out save, marking the first time he's thrown more than one inning this season. Wagner had not recorded a single save of more than one inning last year, and he earned only two of them in 2006, his first season with the Mets. Prior to joining the team, he had racked up 33 such saves over the course of his career.

"I've been telling Willie for a while that I can do that," Wagner said. "We don't have to wait until the ninth all the time, because a lot of games change in that eighth inning, and I don't mind doing it."

Just the fact that the Mets had created a save situation was plenty satisfying for Wagner. Much of the Mets' offense came in the seventh inning, when Jose Reyes and David Wright both homered off Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth, and a few more runs came in the fourth inning, when four singles and Brian Schneider's bases-loaded walk combined to put a damper on starter Andy Pettitte's afternoon.

The Mets enjoyed some defense, too -- foremost in the third inning, when Church and Luis Castillo gunned down Johnny Damon at home, with Schneider making what Randolph called a "textbook" block of the plate. Then, in the sixth inning, Beltran threw out Derek Jeter, who was attempting to stretch a single into a double.

It was all precisely the type of thing World Series contenders are expected to do. Not that the Mets, still wallowing in third place in the National League East, can call themselves favorites just yet. But on this Saturday, for the first time in quite some time, they appeared capable of taking on the role. Time will tell if this step forward will stick.

"When you're struggling a little bit, everybody starts talking about energy and focus and all that stuff," Randolph said. "That means nothing. It's how you play. When you play well, when you score runs, when you're running around the bases, you look the way we did today. I don't think there was any more passion or grit to what we did today. We just felt good today about getting out and getting a win."

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