But even with their higher octane, the Mets still had to strain. A 5-2 lead shrunk to 5-3 in the eighth inning and 5-4 in the ninth when Manny Ramirez more than offset his defensive faux pas of the first inning by hitting an opposite-field home run against Francisco Rodriguez to change Jerry Manuel into Alex Trebek and the Mets' 83rd game into a different kind of "Jeopardy!"
Formidable opponents for a thousand.
"They're a tough team to beat," Cora said. "That's an American League lineup over there, and they do everything well."
Who are the Dodgers?
But the Dodgers had lost before Wednesday night -- 30 times. "And now we have a chance to take the series," Mets catcher Brian Schneider said, "and get this turned around. We had to get over it somehow. Sometimes it's almost like the season is starting over and you have to get your first win all over again."
The Mets had a number of contributors to this one. Oliver Perez, a disabled-list assignee for the preceding 66 days, emerged as the winning pitcher, a distinction he gained but barely earned, and Daniel Murphy, the man least likely, made the play of the year, a dazzling behind-the-back flip worthy of Ozzie Smith or Bob Cousy.
More central to the victory were 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief by Bobby Parnell, K-Rod's ability to self-correct after Ramirez made the game as tight as Mazzilli's pants and hits -- nine of them, three for extra bases. The Mets had begun the evening with more strikeouts (21) than total bases (14) in a three-game sequence. Discounting their nine-run aberration in Pittsburgh on Thursday, they had scored four runs in five games. But before Perez threw the first of his 108 pitches, pitcher Livan Hernandez predicted a change: "We're going to win and have a lot of doubles."
What is clairvoyant? Three of their first four hits were for two bases. "I know things," Hernandez, the magnificent, said afterward.
David Wright, who had two hits and ended his latest sequence of hitless at-bats at 17, said "HoJo [batting coach Howard Johnson] willed us to win."
Manuel always hopes to win via pitching; it's the preferred way. He had hoped to get the "old Ollie" back, and, well, he did. Perez pitched five flawed innings and threw only 55
strikes. He walked seven, his high in six starts this season, and allowed four hits but only two runs. He gained his second victory in four decisions but afforded his manager and pitching coach scant reason to be encouraged.
"Í just felt like we let him off the hook a little," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "It was a game where we needed a big hit, and, sometimes, you don't come up with them. Give [Perez] credit, he was good when he needed to be."
But not what had been expected. The Mets had advertised his development of a changeup. But he threw one and declined to throw another, Schneider said. They had anticipated a longer, more refined performance. Manuel referred to "the uncertainty of Ollie" when he discussed the difficulty of winning.
Perez said he had afforded his team a chance to win when, more to the point, the offense had afforded him that chance. It scored as many runs (three) in the third inning against losing pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (3-5) as it had in the previous four games. Murphy had two doubles, and Jeremy Reed one. Schneider, Wright, Reed and Luis Castillo drove in runs.
And for the first time in a while, the Mets were assisted by the unseen hand, the same force that had contributed to four straight losses. The ground ball Andre Ethier hit in the ninth might have been a hit to center field, but Cora was holding Blake, the runner on second base, close to deny him a good jump. Had identical circumstances existed Saturday, Ethier's ground ball might have been hit 15 feet to Cora's left.
And what force was it that enabled Murphy to create a highlight? His play came with one out and no one on in the seventh. Mark Loretta hit a ground ball that struck first base and bounced toward second base. Murphy retrieved it with his bare hand and in one motion flipped the ball blindly to Parnell, who was covering first base.
Glove work has been challenging for Murphy, and he pulls that off?
"I don't know what to say about that play," Murphy's roomie, Nick Evans, said. "We've got a long ride home. I'll think of something. What a play!"
Just one of the 27 outs that came with some difficulty for a team that had been tripping over itself for days. "We got the one in a row," Evans said. "And tomorrow night, we'll get another one in a row. And then we'll put 'em together."