Chavez comes through in the end
Outfielder drives in winning run after heroic effort by Mets 'pen
MILWAUKEE -- The time to calculate the Mets' magic number remains a week or two in the future. And, goodness knows, it would be patently premature for any first-place team even to consider scheduling a meeting to determine how any postseason pot would be split. But in the case of the Mets, who now have a magic number of 22, the pot will split into at least 67 pieces.
These first-place Mets rightfully dismissed any talk of shares Tuesday night. They were more inclined to relish another victory against a team that still could come between them and their ultimate objective. They just had beaten the Wild Card leaders, the Brewers, in 10 innings to maintain their division lead at two games. But when they reviewed the 6-5 victory, they recognized it had been achieved primarily through the efforts of the lower-profile players among them, the players whose very presence may cut the October pie into slivers rather than slices.
Not only did 20 players participate in the team's 19th victory in 26 games, but almost all of them made some sort of tangible contribution. As Damion Easley observed, "There were a lot of us in this one."
Easley had driven in the Mets' second run in the second inning and applied a tag at second base in the eighth inning that denied the Brewers a runner in scoring position with one out with the top of the order batting. The ball had come on one short-hop bounce from replacement left fielder Endy Chavez, who, two innings later, delivered the decisive run with a sacrifice fly against closer Salomon Torres.
Chavez's assist was the second of the night by a Mets outfielder, the first coming in the fourth inning and denying the Brewers a run that would have put them ahead, 6-5. That throw, characterized as "the play that won the game for them" by Brewers manager Ned Yost, came from the arm of Carlos Beltran, who also provided the three-run home run that afforded the Mets a 5-1 lead in the third.
And there was the run-scoring double by Fernando Tatis and the opposite-field single by Carlos Delgado that directly preceded it in the second, the 10th-inning leadoff pinch-hit single by Dan Murphy and the sacrifice bunt by Jose Reyes that followed it, handsome plays in left field and at third base by Nick Evans and David Wright, Robinson Cancel's block of the plate on Beltran's throw and -- drum roll -- seven scoreless innings by six members of the bullpen. Seven scoreless. Honest.
Most of the good stuff happened once rookie starter Jonathan Niese had excused himself from his big league debut after pitching three-plus innings. Niese did allow seven hits, four walks and five runs. But somebody had to achieve the first nine outs. And he did.
"Almost everyone we ran out there gave us something," manager Jerry Manuel said.
His team had gained its 15th victory in 31 games decided by one run, put its road record over .500, 37-36, and won a new characterization from Manuel -- "We're a tightrope team" -- and praise from the star of the game: "The guys who were on the bench were the guys who won the game," Beltran said with needless modesty. "It's a great way to win a big game."
Not a critical game, but certainly important. If the Mets don't deny the Phillies in the East, they will have to have a better record than the Brewers to play on October. After winning the first two games of the series here, they are 2 1/2 games behind the Wild Card leaders. They have outplayed them for 19 innings.
When contributions come from so many and among the many are the lesser lights, and the result is success, it all buoys a team. The Mets appeared to be on a roll Tuesday night. And that they have won five times in their six most recent games reinforces that image.
Their bullpen, besieged, bedeviled and beleaguered, became a force, believe it or not. Nelson Figueroa, Duaner Sanchez, Brian Stokes (two innings), Pedro Feliciano, winning pitcher Joe Smith and Luis Ayala (five saves in six opportunities) allowed eight baserunners in their seven innings, four of those by Figueroa, who allowed Niese's fifth run to score.
Another run would have scored if not for Beltran's throw to the plate after a one-out bloop single to left-center by Corey Hart. "It never occurred to me they'd be able to get J.J. [Hardy] at the plate," Yost said. "J.J. got a great read and a great jump." But he cut third base poorly, and that might have been the difference.
Stokes did the heavy lifting, accounting for six outs. His relief work has been so effective, Manuel has eliminated him from the pool of possible spot starters. Niese, who faced 20 batters and allowed 11 baserunners, was not eliminated. Manuel said, "You pretty much have to throw this one [start] out because it's his first."
Niese said anxiety undermined him in the first inning. He surrendered a home run to Rickie Weeks on his second big league pitch and walked the next two batters. Nine of his first 13 pitches were balls. But after pitching coach Dan Warthen visited the mound, Niese retired the side, striking out Hart and Mike Cameron. He allowed three baserunners over the next two innings and had a 5-1 lead when he took the mound for the fourth. His mechanics betrayed him then, he said. The Brewers forced him from the game with five straight hits, one a two-run double by Manny Parra, the starting pitcher.
It might have been worse. Evans caught a ball at the wall in the second.
"We had no other choices," Manuel said, explaining why the Mets had turned to a 21-year-old rookie southpaw to face an opponent that won 31 of their 45 games against left-handed starters.
But the Mets are turning to anyone who they think can make a championship more likely. Manuel has 35 players and nine to 12 bullpen options at his disposal. And the Mets will have a lot to consider when -- and if -- a shares meeting is necessary. "If we all get five dollars, that'll be enough," Easley said. "But I don't think anyone is worrying about money now."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.