Gone were the questions of managerial turmoil, of whether or not Willie Randolph would have a job. Gone, too, were the day-old questions of how Manuel might change this club. What remained were nothing more than questions of baseball -- questions of how the Mets might win. So when Damion Easley launched a go-ahead homer in the 10th inning on Wednesday, the Mets felt somewhat cleansed.
"Everybody in here obviously loves and respects Willie," David Wright said. "With that being said, we have to move on for the sake of making the playoffs. And Jerry is extremely capable of doing that. He's got the respect of this clubhouse."
So the Mets went about their business on Wednesday under a new set of circumstances. They were down in this game, came back, then went ahead when Easley dumped Angels reliever Justin Speier's pitch over the left-field wall with two outs in the 10th inning.
And nothing bad happened after that.
"It was a good feeling to sense that it wasn't over," Easley said. "There was no frustration, and we got a win."
It seemed as if the Mets would face another loss, until, with two outs in the ninth inning and reigning All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez on the mound, Wright singled home the game-tying run. Jose Reyes had singled with one out to spark the rally, then reached second base on a wild pitch. Reyes finished with three hits in all, and nearly reached second base on a popout in the seventh. Manuel's influence or sheer coincidence?
"That's the way I'm supposed to run," Reyes said.
And that's the way the Mets are supposed to win.
"We've been losing these games all year," Wright said.
They're the games that could have gone either way, due to some evenly matched starting pitching. Though the Mets -- Reyes, mostly -- jumped on Angels starter Jon Garland for three runs in the early innings, lefty Oliver Perez quickly gave all of them back.
Wednesday again proved that there's no denying Perez's inconsistency, but there are different ways to view it. Before the game, one reporter asked Manuel just what he thought of Perez, considering the ups and downs throughout his Mets career.
"Oh, man," Manuel said, laughing. "That's a very good question."
One day earlier, new pitching coach Dan Warthen faced the same question.
Warthen, too, chuckled for a moment.
"I have a lot of thoughts," he said.
Truth is, since Perez joined the Mets midway through the 2006 season, no one -- not Manuel, not Randolph, not ex-pitching coach Rick Peterson -- has been able to figure him out. Sometimes, he's great. Sometimes, he's not.
Often, Perez is lodged directly in between.
More than the meltdowns and more than the gems, Wednesday night's game was the type that has come to mark Perez's tenure in New York. He didn't pitch particularly poorly against the Angels, nor did he pitch particularly well. Instead, Perez allowed too many hits and too many walks, but he escaped a few jams and gave the Mets a chance to win.
His greatest trouble came in the fifth inning, when five straight Angels reached base with no outs. Three of them scored, but not all of the hits were particularly well struck.
"During that one inning, I wasn't so concerned with that," Manuel said. "There's going to be times when other teams get momentum and flow."
More disturbing to Manuel was the RBI single that Jeff Mathis hit the previous inning, providing the first contribution to the Angels' comeback.
But while those two rallies temporarily shackled the Mets, it was their own late offense that marked the night. Reyes gave them spark. Wright gave them life.
"We honestly felt like it was our game after that happened," Easley said.
Their season, too. Wednesday's win, coupled with the Phillies' 7-4 loss to the Red Sox, pulled the Mets back to within 5 1/2 games of first place in the National League East. They haven't been this close since their four-game sweep in San Diego -- the series that directly led to Randolph's demise.
They'd like to edge closer, and there's plenty of time to do it. Maybe Manuel can help or maybe he won't be any help at all. A sample size this small can't say, but what's clear is that the Mets flew out of California in far better shape than they arrived.
They wanted stability, and they received it. Now they simply want to win.
"We're not sitting in here saying, 'Let's win this one for Jerry,'" said Billy Wagner, who picked up his 16th save. "It's not about that. It's, 'Let's win it for the Mets.'"