NEW YORK -- The ball left the bat of Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal and headed directly toward the bottom of the ninth. On the bench and in the field, the Mets saw their one-run lead -- and perhaps their victory and one more slice of their division advantage -- pass before their eyes. On the mound, Billy Wagner cursed his fate. Runners on first and third and Lieberthal, his former teammate, had "put it in the worst place possible -- on the ground and near the line." In the clubhouse, Tom Glavine closed his eyes.

It was going to be such as good game to win. But losing it would have hurt more than winning it helped. For that instant, the Mets squirmed. Even with their division lead in double digits, they thought of consequences, of what another loss to the Phillies might suggest. Or what the drive-time alarmists would say Monday.

And they waited for something, someone to stop that blasted ground ball headed toward a tie score -- or worse. Glavine, his ears open, heard the television call -- "Diving stop by Wright" -- and opened his eyes "to see if he made a good throw."

In the dugout, manager Willie Randolph "wanted to run the ball across the field for David [Wright], or guide it."

On the mound and on his way to his 24th save, Wagner said, "I'm glad it's Lieberthal running."

And then it was over. Wright's true throw reached Carlos Delgado's glove and put closing punctuation on a 4-3 Mets victory. This day may fade from the Mets' memory by Halloween, but in the immediate afterglow, it felt as good as the occasional breeze that invaded Shea on Saturday afternoon.

No one wanted to consider an alternate outcome and its ramifications -- successive losses to their closest pursuer, four losses in five games, more bullpen deficiency and the lead down to 10 games, just five days after it had jumped to 14.

"It was a real good game to win," is how Randolph summarized it. The manager preferred not to put in words what might have been had Wright not intercepted Lieberthal's hot ground ball.

Now all is well again in the Mets' world. The three losses in five games since the sweep of the Braves last weekend are merely a blip. Now the team with the best record in the National League can go back to winning because of talent and focus and not because of need. A mental health victory it was. Even first-place teams need one once in a while.

This one was a function of the Phillies' defense as much as it was of anything gallant by the Mets. Ultimately, it was a two-run double by Endy Chavez in the sixth inning that provided the decisive run in what became the 287th victory of Glavine's career, his 12th this season and his first since June 23.

But it was a throwing error by losing pitcher Jon Lieber that initiated the Mets' three-run rally that carried them to their seventh victory in 11 games against the Phillies this season and fueled Glavine's first victory in eight starts.

Lieber (4-9) had retired 17 consecutive batters when his impressive outing blew up. His low, 25-foot throw to the right-field side of first base on a two-out ground ball by Carlos Beltran lit the fuse. Delgado followed with a sharp single to center field that moved Beltran to third. Wright then lofted a fly ball to not-so shallow left field that shortstop Jimmy Rollins pursued as left fielder Pat Burrell charged from deep left.

The ball fell between them for Wright's third hit in 19 at-bats and a run -- and a mild scolding from Randolph. Wright hadn't followed his swing with a sprint. He reached first base when second was available. The manager noticed. Chavez, who replaced Cliff Floyd (sore Achilles' tendon), hit the next pitch to the wall in left-center for a two-run double and the lead.

The Phillies had taken a 3-0 lead before the game was five batters old. Glavine walked Aaron Rowand after retiring the first batter. Rollins singled to left before Ryan Howard's remarkable opposite-field might produced the first baseman's National League-leading 38th home run, his second home run in two at-bats.

"It wasn't the way I wanted to start out," Glavine said. "Most guys, that's a fly ball. But he's got great power that way. You have to tip you cap."

Glavine (12-4) had grown tired of crediting his adversaries. He had heard the radio and read the papers.

"I knew it had been a long time since I'd won. But it's not as though I stunk every time out," he said. "I wasn't that bad. But if you hear it enough, after a while, you start to buy into it, too."

But after the home run, he retired 15 of 17 batters -- one out coming on another brilliant play by Wright and a tag by Delgado. In Glavine's own words, he began trying to win rather than trying to avoid a losing. He admitted his recent troubles have been "mostly mental." He spoke of a golfing buddy who regularly laments the challenges thinking creates on the course. "It's the same for me, even now," he said.

And he knew the mental part of the game might become a challenge for the Mets if another loss to the Phillies happened.

"We might have been on the verge of doing that," Glavine said. "You see how quickly things can change. So we have to guard against taking anything for granted. "We might have been on the verge of doing that," Glavine said. "You see how quickly things can change. So we have to guard against taking anything for granted. [There are] still a lot of games left. We stopped the bleeding a little today. It was good to do that."