NEW YORK -- It is one thing to hit 'em far, quite another to hit 'em often, and an altogether different animal to hit 'em in important instances in important games in the gun lap of the season. So what is it that Carlos Delgado is doing these days by hitting home runs far and frequent and in circumstances that are so meaningful to his team? It is some kind of otherworldly trifecta the Mets first baseman has produced of late, an ongoing performance that almost has made the pennant race of secondary import. Every season has races. Not every player does what Delgado has been doing.

So it was for the Mets on Tuesday night when they engaged the Nationals in their 144th game. With the Carlos Brothers seemingly shrinking Shea Stadium, the Mets played the baseball equivalent of arena football and won. They withstood the persistence of those pesky Nats and the inadequate pitching of Oliver Perez and produced an angst-filled victory that was a tribute to their own perseverance and offense.

And when it was over, when Luis Ayala applied the finishing touches to a 10-8 victory, Delgado was the primary topic of conversation, almost the lone topic. The Phillies, their 10-8 loss and the pennant-race implications -- the Mets now lead by 2 1/2 games in the National League East -- were all but ignored. They mattered. But Degado mattered more.

"This is what it means to take care of your own business and not even think of the team chasing you," Pedro Martinez said.

A two-run home run by Carlos Beltran in the sixth inning was the telling blow in this one. It produced the third Mets' lead of the night, 9-8, and the only one they protected. But the two home runs by Delgado -- the second immediately following Beltran's -- caught the imagination of Shea Stadium, not to mention the members of the home team.

"It reminds me of [Barry] Bonds," said Ryan Church, whose two hits -- a home run -- and two RBIs seemed rather pedestrian compared with Delgado's production. "It doesn't matter what the pitch or where it is, he just crushes it. We're in a big time of the year. And we can just ride his coattails. Just ride that mule.

"The way he's hitting, the most important thing the rest of us have to do is make sure he gets up again."

Eleven hits and four walks by the other Mets resulted in four turns at bat for Delgado, none after the sixth. His contributions to the team's 21st victory in 30 games were an opposite-field single that led to a run in the second inning, his 34th home run off the center-field side of the scoreboard in the third, an intentional walk in the fourth and his fourth home run in two games to right in the sixth.

"And they're all absolute bombs," Damion Easley said. "No doubters. You can't take your eyes off him. And his timing is impeccable."

The way Delgado has hit in the Mets' two most recent games -- Sunday and Tuesday nights -- it's as if he's playing a different game.

"He is," Easley said. "There aren't many people who can make it look that way."

The veterans, because they've seen so much, are more impressed than the younger players.

"I don't recall many guys doing that," Martinez said. "Even Manny [Ramirez], when he would drive in so many runs didn't hit them so far."

"When [Delgado] was with Toronto, he had some ungodly streaks," reliever Scott Schoeneweis said. "I can't say this one's better, because I didn't recall all of them then. But this one is pretty scary. I told Joe Smith that. When Carlos is hot, he's unreal."

Manager Jerry Manuel recalled Albert Belle producing a surge comparable to what Delgado has created in 1998, when he managed Belle for the White Sox.


"If this isn't his best, I'd like to see what he's like when he really gets going. Two home runs Sunday night, two home runs tonight. The only reason he didn't hit two [Monday night] was that we didn't play."
-- Mets rookie Nick Evans, on Carlos Delgado

"We weren't necessarily in a pennant race at that time," the manager said. "Being in a pennant race and having that type of streak is really a tremendous combination of accomplishments. Not to take anything from Albert, Albert had a great run, but we weren't fighting. To be fighting for something and to have that kind of run is basically saying, 'I am putting you on my shoulders.' And that's what he's doing."

Belle hit 33 home runs from June 25-Sept. 27. Delgado has hit 24, beginning on June 27. No players in the big leagues have as many. The Mets have 18 games remaining.

Delgado has hit multiple home runs in consecutive games for the first time in his career. Now he has seven multiple home run games this season, equaling the most by a Mets player -- Dave Kingman had seven in 1976 -- and the most he has had in one season.

The Mets had leads of 2-0 and 5-2, but Perez protected neither, allowing seven runs. They also overcame deficits of 7-5 and 8-7 to beat the Nationals for the ninth time in 13 games this season. Beltran's 23rd home run against reliever Charlie Manning was his fifth against left-handed pitching in less than a month. He had hit two prior to Aug. 24. The two RBIs put his season total at 100. Delgado, who had reached 100 on Sunday, now has 35 home runs.

Perez, who had pitched at least six innings in his preceding 13 starts, was gone after retiring one batter in the fourth inning, having retired 10 of 20 batters. The seven runs equaled his season high, but in that case -- April 30 against the Pirates -- five of the runs were unearned. The start on Tuesday night was reminiscent of Perez's inadequate performance in his final start last season against the Marlins in the Mets' 160th game.

"You can just throw this one out," Manuel said.

He considered it an aberration. But his choice of phrasing seemed apropos.

The first two runs against Perez came on Cristian Guzman's seventh home run in the third inning and tied the score at 2. Perez surrendered hits to his final four batters, the third one was a two-run single by former Mets player Anderson Hernandez, who had three RBIs in 87 career at-bats with the Mets. The fourth and fifth runs in the inning scored on hits by Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge against Nelson Figueroa, the first of six Mets relievers.

Figueroa was pitching against the Nationals for the first time since identifying them as "softball girls" on May 12.

But that silliness and almost everything else -- another save by Ayala, an offensive awakening by Jose Reyes and David Wright -- was obscured by the player who is making a Silky Sullivan run at the National League MVP Award. Shea Stadium considers him the leading candidate and now says as much in daily chants.

Delgado isn't sure whether he has hit at such a torrid pace.

"It's great to be able to contribute," Delgado said. "It's great to be able to help the team. I think we've got a great club. It's a great race. It's awesome."

"If this isn't his best, I'd like to see what he's like when he really gets going," rookie Nick Evans said. "Two home runs Sunday night, two home runs tonight. The only reason he didn't hit two [Monday night] was that we didn't play."