Instead, the adversity made them more resolute. The magic of the summer, they vowed, wouldn't be offset by the attrition in the fall. Or as Cliff Floyd said almost defiantly Wednesday night, "We weren't going to let injuries ruin all we'd done to get here."
And so the Mets entered their Division Series engagement with the Dodgers armed with resolve, resilience and relief pitching as deep as a Carlos Delgado home run. And with a touch of what Bill Virdon used to call "hidden gibberish," they defied the revised odds, denied the revitalized Dodgers and, in the words of manager Willie Randolph, "did what we did all year."
Their starting rotation crippled, the Mets resorted to big-bang offense and the bullpen to beat back the Dodgers. They answered their own rhetorical question -- "Why can't we?" -- with a rousing 6-5 victory that cleared the Flushing air of the "Why us? Why now?" sense that could have poisoned their first postseason appearance in six years.
The middle of the Mets' batting order, fueled by Delgado's four hits and two RBIs, steamrolled starter Derek Lowe and then Brad Penny, who sometimes appears to be a Mets accomplice. And the reconstituted bullpen -- now eight men deep because of injuries to starters Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez -- provided 4 2/3 innings of bend-don't-break work to protect just enough of what the offense had produced.
"When you lose your big boys, the idea of being a team probably takes hold a little more," Randolph said as he reveled in the afterglow of his first managerial success in the postseason. "We've been a team all year. We get our strength being a team."
The team with the best record in the National League in one-run games -- and in all games, for that matter -- asserted itself in several ways. With Martinez and Hernandez, two men who had been assigned to start Game 1, in the dugout instead, rookie John Maine held together long enough for Randolph to rely on his bullpen. At the same time, Delgado, Floyd and David Wright, the middle of the order, were in the middle of all the scoring.
"People might have had questions about us," Floyd said. "But I think we had answers. We came from behind, and we held them off, too. I think we took their best shots, and we won. It makes you happy, and it makes you proud."
Mota was pitching his second inning. He retired the side in order in the sixth and did so impressively, prompting Randolph to keep him in the game, even though his spot in the batting order came up with the bases loaded, two runs already in and two outs in the sixth. Mota flied out to right.
Randolph scoffed at the suggestion that his move was bold. But his players thought it was aggressive and consistent with how they had played.
"It took some brass to let [Mota] hit. But we had the lead, and he was confident we could hold it," Paul Lo Duca said. "And Mota can swing the bat."
> On this night, Mota, the former Dodger, didn't hold it, though he wasn't fully at fault. The Dodgers' tying rally in the seventh began with a bunt single by former Met Marlon Anderson. Second baseman Jose Valentin charged the bunt and made a multiple-bounce, off-balance flip, but Anderson beat the throw.
Wilson Betemit followed with a ground ball to the left of Valentin, who unwisely threw to second base. His low throw struck Anderson and bounced away, allowing the lead runner to reach third. After pinch-hitter Julio Lugo struck out, Rafael Furcal drove in Anderson with a single, and after Kenny Lofton flied out, Nomar Garciaparra doubled inside third base for two runs.
"The way we looked at it at the point," Floyd said, "the score was 4-4, and we were ahead."
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Dodgers manager Grady Little summoned Penny to start seventh, though Penny pitched in relief just once this season and has a miserable resume against the Mets. Penny's 10 losses in 13 career decisions against the Mets yields a .231 career winning percentage, the lowest of any active pitcher with at least 10 decisions against them.
Penny faced seven batters, walked two, including Jose Reyes leading off the inning, and allowed two hits -- Delgado's hard single to the left of shortstop Furcal that scored Reyes, and Wright's soft double into shallow right that scored Carlos Beltran with the run that made the difference after the Dodgers scored once in the ninth against Billy Wagner.
The Dodgers scored once against Maine in the second inning after two stunning base-running blunders -- on one play -- defused a potentially productive inning.
Jeff Kent, the runner on second base, held up as Shawn Green tracked Russell Martin's fly ball to the warning track in right. The ball fell in for a single, and J.D. Drew, the runner on first, quickly came up on Kent's heels. Both were thrown out at the plate -- on one relay throw. "Hidden gibberish," Virdon, the former Pirates and Astros manager, called it. He defined it as "the strange, good things that happen for good teams."
The relay from Green to Valentin to Lo Duca arrived before Kent, who slid, hands first, to Lo Duca's left. After the tag, the Mets catcher turned with a start and tagged Drew on the fair side of the plate.
"A play like that happens," Lo Duca said, "and you're pretty sure things aren't going against you anymore."
"You smile," Floyd said. "It's a funny play -- to us. I think we took a breath after that play. I think right then, we decided we like playing in the postseason."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less