For as long as Endy Chavez needed to score from third base and Ruben Gotay to beat the too-late, too-wide throw to the plate from right fielder Matt Murton, the Mets were focused on winning. They were a 25-man Cyclops, unaware of everything other than was happening before their very eye.
And when Gotay's run turned the Mets' 40th game into walk-off wonder, they became as giddy as the school kids who had filled Shea's upper tiers on Thursday. "How cool was that? How cool was that?" Gotay would say.
To them, quite.
The Mets' five-run rally in the ninth inning and 6-5 victory it produced were October cool. Elvis cool. No other-side-of-the-pillow cool could compare. The grand ninth-inning comeback was the kind baseball event that has staying power, influence beyond itself. It probably won't matter on Friday night when the Yankees are in the other dugout or next week when the Mets' season returns to Atlanta. But it will be with the Mets into the summer and perhaps beyond, and it may fuel them.
"That's how it works," Shawn Green said, "Once you do it, you think you can do it again. There'll be another time this season when we'll be down late, and this [game] will come up. As unlikely as it was, we'll know it can be done."
How often can it happen? The last time the Mets won in the ninth inning after trailing by at least four in the inning was in May 1999 against the Phillies. Not that they hadn't had opportunities in the interim.
"It's unbelievable when you think about it," Carlos Beltran said. "But when it's happening, you believe it."
The eight-batter rally staggered the Cubs, who lost three of four games in their Shea Stadium series, two in the Mets' final at-bat. Delgado ended each, the first with a bases-loaded walk on Monday, this one with a bases-loaded single against left-handed reliever Scott Eyre that Theriot couldn't reach.
Delgado had been booed after grounding into a double play with runners on first and third in the fifth after the Mets had scored against starter Angel Guzman, and again in the eighth when he struck out to lower his batting average to .211. By the time he batted against Eyre, the only sounds were the squeals of anticipation from the remnants of a gathering of 42,667 high-pitched school kids.
They had set the stage for him in this way: David Newhan singled to center before closer Ryan Dempster retired Ramon Castro. Carlos Gomez moved Newhan to third with a single to center. After Gomez advanced to second base on defensive indifference, pinch-hitter Beltran walked to load the bases and bring Cubs manager Lou Piniella to the mound to scold his pitcher.
A walk to Endy Chavez scored one run, Gotay's single to left scored another.
"I thought I'd get pinch-hit for," Gotay said. "But when I didn't hear anything from Willie [Randolph], I just kept walking [to the plate]."
Randolph did have options. He had used a lineup of reserves in the 1:10 p.m. ET game that followed the rain-delayed Wednesday night game that ended at 12:53 a.m. Green and Delgado were the only regulars starting.
"We've got the best bench in the big leagues," Green said before the game.
"I was right," he said afterward. "It worked out."
Eyre replaced Dempster and threw three pitches. Wright singled on the first pitch of his first pinch-hitting appearance in the big leagues, scoring Beltran. Delgado, batting .311 against left-handed pitching, hit the third.
"I was ready," he said. "Bases loaded, one out, and they were trying to throw strikes."
Given the day-game-after-a-night-game order and flawed pitching of understudy starter Jason Vargas, the Mets appeared destined to lose. They had reached down into the rotation of their Triple-A affiliate for the third time in 17 games. And for the second time, the results fell short of what the club had anticipated.
Vargas, summoned from the New Orleans Zephyrs, gave the Mets seven innings, but in the process, he surrendered two two-run home runs. Making his Mets debut and his 19th big-league start, Vargas allowed home runs to Angel Pagan and Aramis Ramirez in the sixth inning, offsetting his other work which more than sufficed. The Mets, hardly productive in five innings against Guzman, trailed, 5-1.
Their deficit remained at four runs when Ambiorix Burgos pitched two perfect innings.
"He kept us in position," Randolph said.
Burgos' rewards were his first National League victory and a place in the celebration that followed.
"It feels pretty good right now," Gotay said. "I've seen games like this on TV, but now I've played in one. And it feels pretty good."