"We cannot afford to make a lot of mistakes, that's for sure," starter Johan Santana said. "It seems like every time I'm out there, we can't get things done. But at the same time, they backed it up."
They backed it up despite what manager Jerry Manuel called "somewhat porous defense," despite a rash of injuries that seem contagious and despite a loss of confidence that has its roots in California. They backed it up, in large part, due to Santana.
And Santana, in turn, gave much of the credit to Kevin Youkilis.
Pitching an ordinary game for most of Friday evening, Santana turned into a different pitcher in the middle innings -- thanks to Youkilis. After Santana hit Boston's first baseman with a two-strike pitch in the fifth inning, the two exchanged words as Youkilis walked down the first-base line. Umpires and Red Sox manager Terry Francona drew the two apart, but not before the damage was done.
Santana was heated. And clinging to a one-run lead, he didn't give the Sox another chance.
"In that situation right there, with two outs, two strikes, there's no way I'm going to hit anybody intentionally," Santana said. "But after I hit him, he just started looking at me. I don't appreciate that. I play the right way. I don't want to hit him. But if you're looking at me like that, you're going to get it back, because I'm a gamer, and that's what I'm going to do."
Youkilis saw the event somewhat differently.
"He wanted me to go down to first base and not joke around, I guess, but I wasn't mad," Youkilis said. "I've been hit so many times. You joke around one time, I guess, and pitchers don't like it."
Whatever the case, Santana wasn't the only Met fired up. Relieving Santana in lieu of J.J. Putz, who was unavailable with a stiff neck, Bobby Parnell pitched the eighth inning. Flirting with 100 mph, he retired the side in order, and Francisco Rodriguez did likewise in the ninth.
The Mets, somehow, had escaped.
"We needed to win a ballgame," Manuel said. "That was for sure."
His desperation stemmed mostly from an almost obscene amount of injuries. The Mets entered the game without starting shortstop Jose Reyes, who is nursing tendinitis in his right calf; without first baseman Carlos Delgado, who is recovering from hip surgery; and without catcher Brian Schneider, who is on the disabled list with a strained back. They learned about an hour before the first pitch that Carlos Beltran had a sore right knee that would limit him to DH duties, and they found out during the game that Putz was unavailable. Then, in the fourth inning, they learned that Ryan Church was feeling tightness in his hamstring and needed a break.
So the Mets proceeded with Gary Sheffield (who hit a home run) in left field, Jeremy Reed in center and Angel Pagan in right -- hardly the outfield they'd envisioned in Spring Training. And they proceeded with Ramon Martinez at shortstop, which presented the greatest problem of all.
Martinez, shaky at shortstop this past week in Los Angeles, made two errors and nearly committed a third.
"But we have to play with what we've got," Beltran said.
And so Manuel said that despite his hesitation to continue playing Martinez at the position, he felt stuck.
"I don't know at this point," he said. "I don't know if I have choices."
How fortunate for the Mets that Santana was on the mound. On this night, he was hardly perfect, but the Mets gave him enough offense -- David Wright, Omir Santos and Martinez all singled in runs off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the fourth -- for a victory. Santana doesn't need much help.
"He's making pitches and he's executing his pitches, and we're not executing on our end defensively," Manuel said. "To some degree, that has to be frustrating. He battled through it."
But the victory was hardly an antidote. The Mets have two more games in Boston, with a tattered roster and merely one win in their past five games. And they will have to win those games without Santana -- a daunting task, indeed.
"He's got different gears, different levels, and I just leave him alone, let him do his thing," Manuel said. "He does it pretty good."