CINCINNATI -- Carlos Beltran paused for a moment, pondering the question.
"I think they can," he said when asked if the Mets can win without him. "I think they have some guys here that can step in and do the job."
Manager Terry Collins offered similar encouragement earlier this week, before his team took another step toward proving it in Tuesday's 8-6 victory over the Reds. The Mets, Collins knows, have already weathered injuries to David Wright, Ike Davis, Johan Santana and Jose Reyes, among others, clinging to respectability even as their pennant hopes have begun to dissolve. It has given them reason to believe they can continue winning even after Beltran's inevitable trade to a contender.
"Due to all the injuries and all the other things," Collins said, "these guys have really pulled together to try to make this a successful season as best they can."
Tuesday's evidence was in the offense. Despite an inadequate start from pitcher Jon Niese, the Mets pounded out eight runs and a dozen hits in a cyclical effort, which saw every starting position player reach base at least once. They knocked the National League's would-be ERA leader, Johnny Cueto, out after five-plus innings, touching him for six unearned runs.
True, the Mets succeeded in large part thanks to contributions from Beltran, who reached base four times and scored thrice. And yes, they took advantage of three Reds errors. But the Mets also produced the type of united offensive effort that hints at better things to come.
"Having a lead, losing it, and then coming back and adding on?" Collins said. "I just shake my head every night. These guys don't ever stop amazing me."
Following the first Cincinnati error in the first inning, Wright and Daniel Murphy opened the scoring with an RBI groundout and a run-scoring single, respectively. Another fielding miscue led to Beltran's RBI single and Jason Bay's sacrifice fly in the third inning, before a third error prompted Jason Pridie's two-run double in the sixth. In sum, the Mets scored six unearned runs against Cueto, who will almost certainly assume the NL ERA lead when he amasses enough innings to qualify -- likely sometime next week.
"That was very uncharacteristic of our team to kick the ball around like that," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Two insurance runs came against reliever Nick Masset in the seventh, on singles from Murphy and pinch-hitter Angel Pagan. Those proved crucial when Ryota Igarashi gave a run back in the eighth. Given that two-run cushion, Tim Byrdak recorded the game's final out for his fourth career save (each of them coming with different teams), combining with Pedro Beato to sub for taxed closer Jason Isringhausen and setup man Bobby Parnell.
"It's always a chess match," said Byrdak, who retired Reds lefty slugger Jay Bruce in a key spot for the second night in a row. "Anything that you can possibly do to give yourself an advantage to try to execute that pitch, you've got to take it."
Byrdak, like the rest of the Mets, saw all too well Tuesday what one brief lapse in performance can do. Dominant for the first three innings, Niese melted down during a five-batter sequence in the fifth, allowing a two-run double to Edgar Renteria and a two-run homer to Joey Votto. Yet with just enough offense backing him, Niese -- an Ohio native -- still managed to record his career-high 10th victory with dozens of family and friends in attendance.
"Hopefully this is the beginning of a long career," he said. "I don't want to be satisfied with what I've been doing so far. I just want to keep moving forward."
Those words might as well be the mantra of his entire team. With players such as Justin Turner (two hits, one run scored), Murphy (two hits, two RBIs) and Beato producing, the Mets are preparing to weather the loss of Beltran the only way they know how. They can think of little else right now, given the probability that the front office will trade Beltran at some point between now and Sunday.
Some of the slugger's teammates follow the rumors and the gossip. Some ignore it. Either way, they alone hold the power to aid Collins and his staff to overcome the inevitable trade, just as they helped the Mets weather the losses of so many key players earlier this season.
"That's what our team's been about all year, it seems," Pridie said. "It seems like every night, someone else is stepping up, getting a big hit. And I think that's the key to a good team."