NEW YORK -- The rain finally made good on its threats in the seventh inning Wednesday, pouring down in an unbroken sheet. It muddied the infield, forming large puddles. It concerned Mets manager Terry Collins. It frustrated starting pitcher Jon Niese.
"Every ball that the umpire gave me just was soaking wet," Niese said. "I just kept trading them out until I got a dry one, and even then, it was still kind of wet."
It was amidst the night's heaviest rain that Niese threw the game's most important pitch, a full-count cutter to Roger Bernadina. The Nationals' outfielder rolled over it with a groundout to first baseman Daniel Murphy, erasing a bases-loaded jam and sending the Mets to their eighth win in 12 games, a 3-0 victory over the Nationals.
Collins talked before the game of scoring early, of taking a quick lead in case the rain ended things -- something the Mets were able to do thanks to Jose Reyes and Justin Turner. But although constant, the rain never truly threatened play until the top of the seventh.
After a two-out double to Danny Espinosa, a walk to Jerry Hairston Jr. and an infield single from Brian Bixler loaded the bases, a new weather pattern began assaulting the field. Half-expecting the game to enter a delay at any moment, Niese continually asked for fresh baseballs on the mound, rubbing them between his hands before delivering to the plate.
But crew chief Bill Miller never called for the grounds crew, leaving Niese to battle Bernadina in a rain-soaked uniform. The lefty threw three fastballs, missing with all of them and prompting Bernadina to relax at the plate. Two more heaters came, both strikes, including an 88-mph get-me-over fastball on the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
"It was right in the middle and he took it," catcher Ronny Paulino said afterward, somewhat in wonderment.
Then came two foul balls and finally a cutter, which Bernadina rolled over for the final out of the inning. Other than a cursory rally against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth, the Nationals never threatened again.
"I wanted to try to get him through that inning," Collins said of Niese. "As we go into the summer, he's certainly shown us that he can pitch out of a jam like he did tonight. I thought that was really impressive."
If nothing else, Niese said, he was determined not to make the rain an excuse. For the lefty, the most vexing aspect of Wednesday's game was gripping pitches amidst the rain -- especially his signature curveball. But Niese was well aware that his opponents were battling through the same poor conditions, water dripping off their helmets and into their lines of vision.
"The conditions weren't ideal," Hairston said. "It seems like every time we were hitting, it was raining pretty good."
It was earlier in the game, with the weather still palatable, that the Mets did their damage against Nationals starter Tom Gorzelanny. Reyes, who reached base four times on the night, singled to spark a first-inning rally that ended with Jason Bay's sacrifice fly. And Turner provided the game's biggest blow five innings later, doubling over Bernadina's head in center to drive in two more runs.
Now playing regularly in New York (along with several of his former Triple-A Buffalo teammates), Turner is batting .387 with four doubles, a home run and 11 RBIs over his last nine games.
"We don't look to them as just fill-ins," Turner said of the eight current Mets who started the season in Buffalo. "For the next couple weeks, we're here to win games."
Turner then spoke of winning two more games to reach a .500 record, a mark the Mets have not touched since the season's eighth game. "It will be nice to get to .500," Turner said, using the future tense. He said "will be nice," not "would be nice." And he meant it.
If the Mets can win in these conditions, Turner knows, they can win in adversity. For it was always there, the rain, at times heavy and at others nothing more than light mist. At one point in the seventh, a delay seemed inevitable. But Citi Field's grounds crew marched out with fresh dirt after the inning, allowing the game to continue.
Though the Mets gleaned some advantage from Tuesday's rainout against the Marlins, surviving one extra day without the disabled David Wright and Ike Davis, Collins feared that more postponements might make them rusty.
"We need to play," Collins said before the game, later walking out to the dugout to check the skies himself.
So they did play, and played quite well. Bay, for his part, downplayed the weather, comparing it to a game he once played in Pittsburgh when the field was "an absolute lake." But he most certainly was in the minority.
"I live in Seattle," Bay said, referencing his offseason home. "That's a summer day right there."