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Mets on cloud nine after Pelfrey's gem

Mets on cloud nine after shutout

NEW YORK -- For most of eight innings, it wasn't so much a game as it was an overmatch -- nine against one. And the one was very much in control.

If Mike Pelfrey needed a strikeout, he struck out whoever happened to be in the batter's box. If the circumstances called for a double play, he threw that heavy two-seam fastball that the Mets like to call "the bowling ball," and a double play happened -- three times in the first five innings. And if a routine ground ball was required, a 4-3, 5-3, 6-3 or some variation of that theme occurred.

But in the eighth inning, the baritones took over, and Mets versus Rockies became a game of chants.

"Pel-frey ... Pel-frey ... Pel-frey."

Dan Warthen, the new pitching coach, had visited Pelfrey with Scott Posednik batting, two runners on base and two out. The Mets' ninth straight victory hardly was imperiled. They led, 7-0, the eventual final score. But many among the 51,293 Shea Stadium patrons worried that Warthen intended to remove Pelfrey, and they expressed their disapproval by chanting the pitcher's name in typical Shea cadence.

"That really sounded cool," Pelfrey said. "All those people. It made the whole night really cool."

Pelfrey made the night, period. Even with the Mets extending their extraordinary run to nine victories, even with the Carlos Brothers hitting home runs and the bullpen extended its scoreless streak, this night belonged to Pelfrey. As hot as the Mets are -- and they are steaming -- Pelfrey has 'em by a few degrees. As abrupt as their reversal has been, his has been more dramatic.

His performance on Sunday night was such that when Billy Joel performs at Shea on Wednesday, he'll have a tough act to follow.

Pelfrey did most of the heavy lifting in the Mets' fourth shutout in six games. He completed eight innings, having surrendered six hits. For the second time in his career -- the first time was in his previous start on Tuesday against the Phillies -- he allowed no walks. He hit a batter, struck out five, won for the sixth time in six starts and impressed everyone from Rockies manager Clint Hurdle to Mr. Juggs Gun.

"Back to that game he pitched against us last year, early in the year -- might have been in April -- this guy has come as far as any guy I have seen in a year's time, a little bit over a year," Hurdle said. "[His] command has improved -- movement, life -- he makes pitches. He can start dropping some slow curve balls along with a slider, getting the ball arm side, keeping it glove side, keeping it down.

Juggs Gun's comments were more concise and emphatic -- 95 mph and on the 114th of his 119 pitches.

"He threw great," Billy Wagner said. "Someday, in a couple of years, he'll know more and be out there with everything working, and he'll strike out 17. I won't be shocked. He has that kind of stuff." With Pelfrey bullying the Rockies and the Mets scoring seven times -- as they did in his previous start -- the visitors were steamrolled. The performance that extended the Mets' longest winning streak since 2000 to nine games and gave them sole possession of second place in the National League East was textbook.

They turned the double plays and committed no errors, they put the leadoff man on base in four innings. They scored in the first inning -- Carlos Beltran hit a three-run home run in the first for the second time in six games. They scored add-on runs, two in the fifth on Carlos Delgado's 17th home run. And they played with an urgency and a freedom unseen at Shea before Tuesday, when they returned home from winning three of four in Philadelphia.

"That series changed us," Wagner said. "We lost the first game, a heartbreaker. But then we showed them, we can play with them, we can hustle with them. We can play fearless."

The only thing they didn't accomplished -- because it was impossible -- was a takeover of first place. The Phillies' victory in the afternoon denied the Mets a chance. But they did move past the Marlins into second place and kept their distance -- a half-game -- from first.

"At some point," manager Jerry Manuel said, "we have to get back into the position of being chased. But we have time. Right now, we're chasing and doing a good job of it." The Mets have reduced their deficit in the standings by seven games since June 13. Their nine-game streak equals the longest in the National League and is the second longest in the big leagues this season, as the Twins recently won 10 consecutive games. No Mets team ever has won more games in succession immediately prior to the All-Star break. The Mets of 1991 won seven straight games before the break and their first three after it.

Six Mets teams have produced winning streaks nine games long. The franchise record is 11 straight victories, accomplished four times. There have been three steaks of 10 victories.

"We can continue working on that Thursday," Manuel said.

Pelfrey looked as if he could beat any team Sunday night. He was so good, Manuel said he "strongly considered" having Pelfrey start the ninth inning.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to challenge him in that way," the manager said.

Pelfrey's reversal hasn't been as surprising as it has been comprehensive. He's even hitting. He has a hit in each of his last three starts (six at-bats) after producing three hits in his first 56 career at-bats. His pitching is what matters most, of course.

Now he, Johan Santana and John Maine have won eight games each. Pelfrey has started four of the team's six shutouts. His eight innings on Sunday extended his scoreless innings streak -- it spans three starts -- to 16. He has allowed one run in his three most recent starts (22 innings).

"Before this season's over," Manuel said, "he's got a chance to leapfrog over some people on our staff."

That scenario appears to be underway.

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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