NEW YORK -- Earlier this weekend, after dropping winnable contests to the Rockies and Nationals, Mets third baseman David Wright lamented the Mets' inability to win close games. If his team was to emulate baseball's surprise contenders of recent years, it would need to start winning the types of games that can go either way.
Sunday, the Mets struck the right formula. Dillon Gee provided an adequate start from someone not named Jon Niese or Matt Harvey, the bullpen preserved his efforts and John Buck once again did a bit of everything in a 2-0 win over the Nationals.
"It seems like in these close games, those are the things that shine," Wright said. "That's the winning formula right there."
Wright was referring generally to his team's situational hitting and bullpen, but he might as well have been lauding one critical sequence in the eighth. After putting the potential tying runs on base with no outs, left-hander Scott Rice ran the count to 3-0 facing Jayson Werth, with lefty sluggers Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche due up next.
Rice thought there was a chance Werth might swing 3-0. But Buck, like others, was "surprised" when Werth hacked at Rice's ensuing sinker, beating it into the dirt for a rally-killing double play.
"It was probably one of the dumber things I've done on the field in a while," Werth said. "Look no further than right here. That's where the game was lost. We had a chance to win the game. I feel like I pretty much blew it."
Rice struck out the next batter, just as LaTroy Hawkins had painted the outside corner to escape a two-out jam in the sixth. And with that, the Mets were on their way to a series win over the Nationals, needing only Bobby Parnell's perfect ninth inning to preserve the victory.
"These guys are obviously one of the best teams in the National League, and rightfully so," Wright said of the Nationals. "So to take two out of three was good for us, especially early in the year for confidence. You've got to take care of business at home. You've got to take care of business within the division, and we accomplished both."
Buck gave the Mets an early lead off Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann in the second inning, booming a deep solo homer to the second deck in left-center field -- it traveled an estimated 460 feet, which Buck joked "might be all I've got." A leadoff walk two innings later led to Mike Baxter's sacrifice fly for the Mets, who forced Zimmermann to throw 96 pitches over five innings.
Gee, meanwhile, gave the Mets five strong innings before tiring in the sixth, walking three of the first four batters to create Hawkins' jam. Had Buck not made a fluid pick-and-throw to cut down Denard Span at second base on a potential wild pitch, the Mets might never have won.
But he did, and they did, in a perfect example of the Orioles-style "little things" to which Wright has referred since Spring Training. Kings of the tightrope (they went a league-best 29-9 in one-run games), the O's combined a strong bullpen last summer with enough power, starting pitching and situational hitting to make their underdog story work.
The Mets copied portions of that blueprint throughout their first 16 games, mixing plenty of power with bright spots in other areas. But behind Niese and Harvey, the back end of the rotation had not given the Mets much consistency until Gee came through with 5 2/3 innings Sunday.
It was not ideal, but it was a start. And it kept the Mets above .500 for at least another day.
"I'm just happy to finally contribute to a win," said Gee, who earned his first victory since undergoing season-ending shoulder artery surgery last July. "That's the truth -- we needed to step it up. It's been really eating away at me the past few weeks, not going out there and doing my job."
Still, it takes more than one contribution from more than one player. It takes Rice's pitch to Werth, for example, and Buck's homer and throw, and Baxter's sacrifice fly, and so many other positives up and down the roster. On a day when Niese and Harvey did not pitch, on an afternoon when Wright, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy did not drive in runs, the Mets still found a way to win.
In Baltimore, they know the feeling.
"If you look at all the playoff teams each year ... you're going to win 60 games," Wright said. "You're going to lose 60. It's those 40 in between that make or break you, and those are usually those close games -- those one-, two-, three-run ballgames. You've got to win them."