Jose Reyes spent most of this week mourning his grandmother's death in the Dominican Republic, miles away from the storms of Flushing. It was not until he arrived back at Citi Field on Thursday morning that his teammates told him what had happened. They described how manager Terry Collins had berated the Mets the night before, imploring them to play better.
"And he had a point," Reyes said. "We needed to start playing better."
Amidst the absurdities of Thursday's 9-8 victory over the Pirates, the Mets somehow did. They won despite spotting the Pirates a seven-run lead. They won despite their closer pitching an inning through unyielding pain. They won despite all logic and sense indicating that they should lose, in what is their biggest comeback victory since rebounding from a seven-run deficit to beat the Braves, 11-8, on June 30, 2000.
"Obviously," Collins said, "that was not the game plan."
In Collins' eyes, they won mainly because of Carlos Beltran, whose three-run homer in the third inning imbued the Mets with a sense of newfound confidence. But others noted that the Mets won thanks to Ruben Tejada, who knocked in three runs, and Daniel Murphy, who tied the game with a pinch-hit single, and even Pirates catcher Dusty Brown, who allowed a critical passed ball to squirt past him in the sixth.
Mostly, though, the Mets won because of what unfolded in the eighth.
Stuck in a tie game after their seven-run comeback, Ronny Paulino opened the inning with a clean single off Pirates reliever Jose Veras. Aiming to sacrifice Paulino over to second, Collins called on his best bunter, pitcher Chris Capuano. But before Capuano could lay down a successful sacrifice, Veras balked pinch-runner Willie Harris to second.Out went Capuano and in came Josh Thole, the second pinch-hitter of the at-bat. A wild pitch moved Harris to third base and a walk to Thole brought up Tejada, who lifted a sacrifice fly to center to give the Mets their first lead of the day.
"That was a big game for Tejada," Reyes said. "That's good to see for a young player, not feeling any pressure in that situation."
Veras later issued a bases-loaded walk to Beltran, plating a critical insurance run. Critical because in the ninth -- one day after undergoing emergency oral surgery to pull two teeth -- Francisco Rodriguez served up a leadoff triple to Xavier Paul and a run-scoring single to Neil Walker.
Unable to quell his pain with medication, Rodriguez then induced a popup to end the threat, the game and -- at least temporarily -- the sense of gloom that had befallen his team.
"No fun at all," was how Rodriguez described his inning on the mound. "I was going through really, really tough pain."
Symbolically, at least, so were the Mets.
In recent days, Collins had turned Citi Field's interview podium into a therapist's chair, venting and ranting and sometimes even raving. He spoke of desire and execution. At various points following Wednesday's loss, he cussed and berated and encouraged the Mets.
Fifteen hours later, Mike Pelfrey took the mound and watched the first three Pirates batters reach base on poorly-struck balls. All three scored. After Walker nearly cranked his two-run homer in the second inning onto Citi Field's Shea Bridge beyond right-center field, the Mets seemed destined for another long night of self-reflection.
But Pelfrey sought out Collins in the dugout and vowed to eat up innings. Then Beltran accomplished what Collins could not, shifting the mood of the Mets with his three-run shot.
"Beltran's the only guy that really did any damage," Pirates starter Paul Maholm said.
What Maholm did not realize was the true extent of it. Beltran's homer reaffirmed to the Mets that they were capable of winning. And the victory reaffirmed that this season is still only one-third complete.
"You need wins like this to show you can do it," Collins said. "When you play 27 outs, you don't stop until the game's over, you continue to make your at-bats count, you continue to make pitches. ... I think it means a lot to us. Hopefully this is something that we feed off of and continue to play well."
Afterward, Collins was calm -- a different person than he had been the night before. He spoke reverently of Beltran and Reyes and Rodriguez. He never raised his voice.
His players became a reflection of that. Pelfrey, who gave up seven runs, beamed during his postgame interview. Rodriguez made light of his pain. Beltran donned a fluorescent button-down shirt and spoke about the win.
"He believes in us," Beltran said of Collins. "And we have to believe in ourselves."