NEW YORK -- No Mets weakness has been more conspicuous, at least lately, than the bullpen. Ryota Igarashi was successful for a time. Fernando Nieve showed flashes of becoming the eighth-inning answer. Jenrry Mejia brought an electric fastball and plenty of promise to the mix.
All also struggled for long stretches, evolving into nothing more than a series of stop-gaps.
Now Elmer Dessens is looking like a solution. Perhaps his success will be fleeting, like that of the others, but either way, the Mets intend to find out.
It was Dessens, more than closer Francisco Rodriguez, who locked down the Mets' 4-3 victory over the Marlins on Friday night, holding a one-run lead for starter R.A. Dickey and ensuring that the Mets would not lose their seventh consecutive game to the Fish.
"He's been terrific, no doubt about it," Rodriguez said. "He's throwing the ball well. He's the guy right now that's being the bridge to get the ball to me."
Dickey to Pedro Feliciano to Dessens -- this was hardly how the Mets drew it up this spring. But somehow, some way, on Friday night it worked.
Entering with two outs and the tying run at third base in the seventh, Dessens induced a popup from one of the best hitters in baseball, Hanley Ramirez. Then, after walking the leadoff batter in the eighth, he mowed down three more Marlins before handing the ball to Rodriguez.
It was, bar none, the defining moment this season for Dessens, who contemplated retirement after last year, then again before signing a Minor League contract with the Mets in February. And he would have retired if not for one nagging thought.
"I felt like I could still pitch," Dessens said.
And so he has become an integral part of this Mets bullpen, crowned as the eighth-inning setup man more due to the follies of Nieve and Igarashi than his own merits. Retirement, now, is far from his mind. Instead his head has become cluttered with thoughts of Ramirez and Marlins and sliders and sinkers. And outs.
"Sometimes you go through stretches where it's tough to get the big outs," Dickey said. "You change it up a little in hopes to find that guy for that moment. And Elmer did a great job of seizing that moment tonight."
If anyone knows about seizing opportunities, it is Dickey, who pitched 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball in his fourth consecutive strong start since joining the Mets. Featuring what he considered one of his better knuckleballs, Dickey allowed early runs on Cameron Maybin's RBI single and Ramirez's fielder's choice, but he recovered to pitch scoreless innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
The Mets edged within a run on RBI hits from Dickey and Jason Bay in the third, tied it on Jeff Francoeur's single in the sixth and then took their first -- and only -- lead on Ruben Tejada's fielder's choice, mere hours after the 20-year-old infielder joined the team in place of Luis Castillo.
Imagine that: Dickey and Dessens, both late-winter signings for the purpose of organizational depth, did the pitching. And Tejada, here only out of necessity, drove in the key run.
"You have to give credit to the organization for creating that type of depth where you can call on guys here in June who perform in that matter in your own division," manager Jerry Manuel said. "And perform very well."
Though Rodriguez, as he lately is wont to do, made things interesting when he put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position in the ninth, he ultimately retired Ramirez on a slow roller to third base to end the game. And the Mets improved to 20-9 at Citi Field, compared with 8-18 on the road.
"The way we're playing right now, we just feel so confident to play at home," Francoeur said. "I don't know what it is, but we get that 4-3 lead and we feel like we're going to win."
Manuel has an idea of what it is. He believes it's the bullpen: Rodriguez, by way of Feliciano and Dessens.
"We worked a strategy to get the ball to him," Manuel said. "We worked to get the ball to Frankie, and we have all the confidence in the world that he's going to get those outs."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.