PHILADELPHIA -- Perception is everything these days for the Mets. They want to finish in third place rather than fourth or fifth because, plain and simple, it looks better on paper. It feels better, too.
With that goal in mind, the Mets took a step forward Tuesday against an old division rival. Ike Davis sparked the four-run winning rally with an RBI double in the 10th, leading the Mets to a 9-5 victory over the Phillies and drawing them back within a game of third place.
They are now riding their first three-game winning streak since June.
"This team's been accused of folding it up," manager Terry Collins said. "I disagree with that. I disagreed with it when I heard it. I know those guys in that locker room. I know what they're made of. I know what their personalities are. And when you don't hit, it looks like you don't care."
If the reverse is true, the Mets certainly looked like they cared on Tuesday. Stuck in a tie game in the 10th, David Wright opened the winning rally by blooping a single off Phillies reliever B.J. Rosenberg. That brought up Davis, who doubled home Wright to give the Mets their first lead since the first inning.
Offensively challenged throughout the past week, the Mets were far from done. The next batter, Lucas Duda, singled home Davis, before Kelly Shoppach cleared the bases with a towering home run to left.
"That wasn't a fun one," Rosenberg said. "For whatever reason, I didn't quite feel like myself. Everything was up. It's pretty simple -- you make really bad pitches to good hitters, and you're going to get in trouble. That's what I did."
And just like that, the complexion of the game transformed from what it was in the early innings.
After Mets starter Chris Young loaded the bases in the first inning on two walks and a hit batsman, Ryan Howard unloaded them with a grand slam to center. Young settled down after that, retiring eight of the next nine batters he faced and allowing just three more hits the rest of the way. But one of those was a solo homer by Chase Utley, which gave the Phillies the lead for most of the evening.
"I got better once I found my rhythm," Young said. "In the first, I loaded the bases with the two walks and the hit batter, and then made a pitch to Howard that -- it wasn't horrible, but he's a great hitter. He's strong and he hit it out. And then from there, I got back to the windup and settled down."
The Mets finally tied things in the eighth inning, when Wright walked and Shoppach doubled him home, saying he was simply trying "to find a pitch in the middle of the plate." Both teams then traded zeros until the 10th.
As the Phillies did with Young, the Mets knocked Vance Worley out in the fifth inning, when Wright tied things at 4 on a booming sacrifice fly to center. That came an inning after Mike Baxter drew the Mets within one on his first home run of the season, a two-run shot to right, and four innings after Wright singled home Ruben Tejada with the first run of the game.
It was the most significant offensive output in some time for the Mets, who went 76 innings without a multirun inning until Baxter's home run. Nine runs marked their highest total in 23 games.
The result was their first bona fide winning streak since June, pulling the Mets within a game of third place -- some hours after Collins stressed the importance of finishing as high in the standings as possible. Though the Mets cannot gain anything tangible by finishing in third, fourth or fifth, Collins stressed the psychological boost of a higher finish heading into the long offseason.
"Everybody has something they'd like to do," Collins said. "Yeah, I'd like to get back to .500. That'd be a great finish for us. I'd like to get over .500, to be honest. But with what's gone on here in the last three weeks, I'm trying to win one at a time. And if you do that, you look up in the first part of October and you'll be OK."
Finishing at .500 represents a tall task for the Mets, who would need to win nearly two-thirds of their remaining games to do so. It would require them, in essence, to be one of the best teams in baseball over the final month of the season.
But it is a worthwhile goal. The Mets have not finished higher than fourth place since 2008, the last time they sniffed the playoffs in September. It is up to their individual players to pursue something greater.
"That's what our main goal is: to continue to improve and play better baseball so we know what we'll be facing next spring," Collins said. "If you start putting numbers on things, you can be extremely disappointed and yet still have some positives. Obviously, the record may not be one of them, but we'll get through that."