"Nine innings of shutout ball -- I won't take anything less," he said hours before starter Brandon Knight threw a pitch for the Mets against the Nationals. Though Manuel had spoken facetiously, a thread of a truth ran through his words.
The Mets hadn't been scoring, so a shutout would make winning more likely. And nine innings would keep the bullpen out of it -- a smart strategy for the Mets, who have seen some shaky late-inning performances in the summer of 2008.
But in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So when Knight's workday was complete and he had allowed two runs and pitched five innings, Manuel had to be satisfied. He couldn't have expected much more.
By evening's end, Knight's performance, modest as it might have been, had gained in stature -- if only by comparison to what followed it -- and impact. It had become a component of a victory the Mets needed, no matter how it was achieved.
The Mets beat the Nationals, 9-7, to stop the bleeding and maintain their standing in the National League East and Wild Card races. A half-game still separates the second-place Mets from the first-place Phillies and from the Brewers, the Wild Card runners-up, too.
And though the races are what drives them, simply winning on this night was what mattered most.
"I don't think about what the other teams do until our game is over," Carlos Beltran said.
The end of the third game in three nights against the have-not Nationals was a long time coming. Nine extraordinarily busy innings filled three hours and 13 minutes, and wore on many of those who participated in it. It was a monumental struggle because of the ineffectiveness of the Mets' bullpen.
"I can't recollect one [like it] especially with what's at stake," Manuel said.
With Knight gaining his first big league victory, Beltran hitting two home runs, driving in three runs, throwing out a runner and making two handsome catches and the bullpen providing the unwanted and nearly endless drama, the Mets won for the first time in four games.
Knight was followed by seven relievers -- "a normal bullpen," Manuel pointed out. But there is nothing normal about the Mets' pen. It succeeded Wednesday only because the Mets' bats provided extra protection. They produced more runs in the first five innings than they had in the previous three games. But if they hadn't scored in the sixth and eighth innings, the two runs the Nationals scored in the ninth would have denied Knight his victory.
Five pitchers -- Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Smith, Pedro Feliciano and Luis Ayala -- shared the eighth and ninth innings when five of 11 batters reached base -- one on an error -- and two of the outs were particularly well struck. Schoeneweis achieved the second out in the eighth on a line drive Ryan Church caught in right field with runners on first and third. That was followed by a fly ball Ryan Zimmerman hit off Smith that Beltran tracked down on the warning track in center field.
After Feliciano allowed Smith's two unearned runs to score in the ninth, Ayala produced the 27th out and his eighth save with the tying run on base.
|"We really need to step up and come together. ... The bullpen, the defense and offense."|
|-- Carlos Beltran|
The Mets used eight pitchers in a nine-inning game for the eighth time in franchise history.
"It's not the way we drew it up," Manuel said. "Maybe we can laugh about it in November."
Knight and the departed relievers had congregated in the clubhouse by the time Ayala was summoned. The winning pitcher described his reaction to Ayala's final pitch as "not the normal, 'Yes.' It was more like ..." And he wiped his forehead as if to say "Phew!"
Other, more pointed words were spoken.
"It takes a lot out of the players," Beltran said. "You say 'What's going on here?' ... Every day, we feel like we've got to score a lot of runs.
"I know they're trying. But it's hard to believe what is happening. There are times when there might be one or two guys who might be having a bad night, but there are others who step in and do the job. Right now, everyone's coming in and finding a way to get in trouble.
"We really need to step up and come together," Beltran continued. "The bullpen, the defense and offense, and try to approach these last games like playoff games because they are playoff games."
At age 32 with 31 1/3 big league innings scattered over eight years, Knight was delighted to win. He said the thoughts of retirement he had harbored passed through his mind as he showered.
"I'll take it this way," he said. "It's worth it."
Knight had been put in position to win when the Mets scored twice in the first inning. Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado hit their respective 15th and 36th home runs. Beltran hit his 25th, with a runner on base in the third, when the Mets scored four times. The six runs came against rookie Shairon Martis, who was removed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning. Reyes drove in a run in the fourth, and the Mets scored in the sixth on a double-play ground ball to lead, 8-2. Martis lost for the third time in his first three big league starts.
But the Nationals scored once in the sixth and twice in the seventh, on a long home run by Elijah Dukes, putting Knight's victory in some jeopardy, putting the Mets in jeopardy as well. Or just adding to their enjoyment.
"We like drama ... I think," Damion Easley said. "It's good for the soul."
|2007||Mets||Phillies||Mets' Lead||2008||Mets||Phillies||Mets' Lead|
|9/1||Won @ ATL, 5-1||Lost @ FLA, 12-6||3||9/1||Won @ MIL, 4-2||Lost @ WSH, 7-4||2|
|9/2||Won @ ATL, 3-2||Lost @ FLA, 7-6||4||9/2||Won @ MIL, 6-5||Won @ WSH, 4-0||2|
|9/3||Won @ CIN, 10-4||Lost @ ATL, 5-1||5||9/3||Won @ MIL, 9-2||Lost @ WSH, 9-7||3|
|9/4||Won @ CIN, 11-7||Won @ ATL, 5-2||5||9/4||Off||Off||3|
|9/5||Lost @ CIN, 7-0||Lost @ ATL, 9-8||5||9/5||Lost vs PHI, 3-0||Won @ NYM, 3-0||2|
|9/6||Off||Off||5||9/6||Rain out||Rain out||2|
|9/7||Won vs HOU, 11-3||Lost vs FLA, 6-3||6||9/7||Split DH with PHI||Split DH with NYM||2|
|9/8||Won vs HOU, 3-1||Won vs FLA, 9-1||6||9/8||Off||Won vs FLA, 8-6||1.5|
|9/9||Won vs HOU, 4-1||Won vs FLA, 8-5||6||9/9||Won vs WSH, 10-8||Lost vs FLA, 10-8||2.5|
|9/10||Won vs ATL, 3-2||Won vs COL, 6-5||6||9/10||Won vs WSH, 13-10||Lost vs FLA, 7-3||3.5|
|9/11||Lost vs ATL, 13-5||Lost vs COL, 8-2||6||9/11||Off||Won vs MIL, 6-3||3|
|9/12||Won vs ATL, 4-3||Lost vs COL, 12-0||7||9/12||Rain out||Rain out||3|
|9/13||Off||Won vs COL, 12-4||6.5||9/13||Split DH with ATL||Won vs MIL, 7-3||2.5|
|9/14||Lost vs PHI, 3-2||Won @ NYM, 3-2||5.5||9/14||Lost vs ATL, 7-4||Won DH from MIL||1|
|9/15||Lost vs PHI, 5-3||Won @ NYM, 5-3||4.5||9/15||Lost @ WSH, 7-2||Off||0.5|
|9/16||Lost vs PHI, 10-6||Won @ NYM, 10-6||3.5||9/16||Lost @ WSH, 1-0||Won vs ATL, 8-7||-0.5|
|9/17||Lost @ WSH, 12-4||Won @ STL, 13-11||2.5||9/17||Won @ WSH, 9-7||Won @ ATL, 6-1||-0.5|
|9/18||Lost @ WSH, 9-8||Won @ STL, 7-4||1.5||9/18||@ WSH||@ ATL|
|9/19||Won @ WSH, 8-4||Lost @ STL, 2-1||2.5||9/19||@ ATL||@ FLA|
|9/20||Lost @ FLA, 8-7||Won @ WSH, 7-6||1.5||9/20||@ ATL||@ FLA|
|9/21||Won @ FLA, 9-6||Won @ WSH, 6-3||1.5||9/21||@ ATL||@ FLA|
|9/22||Won @ FLA, 7-2||Won @ WSH, 4-1||1.5||9/22||CHC||ATL|
|9/23||Won @ FLA, 7-6||Lost @ WSH, 5-3||2.5||9/23||CHC||ATL|
|9/24||Lost vs WSH, 13-4||Off||2||9/24||CHC||ATL|
|9/25||Lost vs WSH, 10-9||Lost vs ATL, 10-6||2||9/25||CHC||Off|
|9/26||Lost vs WSH, 9-6||Won vs ATL, 5-2||1||9/26||FLA||WSH|
|9/27||Lost vs STL, 3-0||Won vs ATL, 6-4||Tied||9/27||FLA||WSH|
|9/28||Lost vs FLA, 7-4||Won vs WSH, 6-0||-1||9/28||FLA||WSH|
|9/29||Won vs FLA, 13-0||Lost vs WSH, 4-2||Tied|
|9/30||Lost vs FLA, 8-1||Won vs WSH, 6-1||-1|
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.