"We are better than this."
That was the message Mets players had on Tuesday at Citi Field, as the team looked to close the gap on NL East rivals Atlanta and Philadelphia.
"I think this is a first-place team if you ask me," Chris Carter told me. "You know what, we've been losing a lot of one-run ballgames, so we just need to find a way to score one or two more runs I think we'll be good."
The Mets are 14-22 in one-run ballgames this season, the worst in the division. By contrast, the Phillies are 18-11 in similar circumstances. Had the Mets scored just two more runs in even a quarter of those losses, they would stand just 3.5 games back right now, a much more promising figure to overturn.
In a similar vein, the Mets are 7-16 since the All-Star break, and nine of the defeats have been by either one or two runs. Heartbreaking back-to-back shutouts in San Francisco when they held the Giants to a combined three runs but lost both games and extra-inning walk-off losses in consecutive series to the Dodgers and D-Backs really set the scene for the second half of the year.
The series in LA was particularly tough for Mets fans. They outscored Joe Torre's Dodgers 8-7 over the four games but ended up 1-3.
After sitting in first place for five games at the end of April, the team dropped to third in the division in just over a week, fourth by May 15, and dead last the following day. Yes, the season was only 38 games old, but already fans had started to panic after getting swept on the road by the Marlins.
A 5-1 homestand in early June moved them back into second behind Atlanta, and they held the spot for more than five weeks before the surging Phillies overtook them. Now, after falling back to a season-high nine games behind the NL East leader, the Mets are looking to make another run at first.
Ike Davis said: "We've got a good team but we've lost a lot of close games. I think we're better than a third-place team for sure, but we're still in it.
"It's going to take a team effort. Everyone needs to pull together and we need to play solid, fundamental baseball."
Tuesday night, the Mets showed the kind of heart and spirit they will need to show for the rest of the season. Mike Pelfrey looked like the 10-game winner from the first half of the year and his career-high 122-pitch effort really paced the Mets in their victory. His tempo was good and he out-dueled arguably the best pitcher in the league this year.
The Mets struggled somewhat at the plate against Ubaldo Jimenez as many would have expected, but they got men on base when they could and they pushed across the winning run with fundamental baseball—walks, base hits, and sacrifice flys.
Most importantly, they were strong in the field. Ike Davis made two fine stops at first base, including a fierce stab to deny Carlos Gonzalez, and Fernando Martinez layed out for a diving stretch in left field to deny Ian Stewart in the latter stages of the contest. And then there's the bullpen. Six up, six down for Hisanori Takahashi and Francisco Rodriguez.
If it's going to take fundamental baseball and a little bit of good luck, Tuesday's win was just what Davis had in mind. It's not going to be this smooth every day of the week, but the team certainly proved to detractors that they are capable of holding their own against the best in the business.