NEW YORK -- Considering how many improbabilities the Mets have already overcome this season, besting a seemingly unbeatable closer did not seem too daunting a task. So when Steve Cishek strolled to the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth inning Friday night, the Mets simply put their collective heads down and went to work.
Cishek had converted a franchise-record 33 consecutive save opportunities for the Marlins, which did not stop Lucas Duda from opening the ninth with a bloop single. Two outs later, Omar Quintanilla shot a game-tying hit to left, where Christian Yelich forfeited any chance of throwing out Duda when he slipped trying to field it.
With the score knotted, pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis then doubled and Curtis Granderson ripped a walk-off single past first base, giving the Mets a 4-3 victory and a three-game winning streak.
"Any time you get a chance to win and celebrate and jump up and down with your teammates is always a positive," Granderson said, "no matter how you do it."
The Mets did it the same way they have in most of their wins this season: with strong starting pitching and just enough offense. Zack Wheeler certainly pitched well enough to win, striking out 10 over six innings of one-run ball. But back-to-back homers off Gonzalez Germen in the eighth necessitated the come-from-behind theatrics.
And theatrical it was for a Mets team that did everything right, but still needed a touch of good fortune to finish off the win. Duda's ball was softly hit, for example, landing in just the right patch of outfield grass. After Travis d'Arnaud followed with a sacrifice bunt to move Duda into scoring position, Bobby Abreu evened out the Mets' luck by scorching an opposite-field liner directly into Yelich's glove.
The rally could have died there. It didn't. A seldom-used bench player who entered on a double-switch two innings earlier, Quintanilla worked the count full off Cishek before punching an outside slider into left field for his fifth hit of the season.
"I'll tell you what, it was a tough at-bat," Quintanilla said. "I went up there, battled, just tried to get something I could hit. He threw me a lot of back-door sliders that were tough pitches to lay off. With the 3-2 count, I just went up there and put a solid bat on it and got it over the third baseman."
Manager Terry Collins next made an unorthodox move, substituting the left-handed Nieuwenhuis for switch-hitter Eric Young. Collins based the strategy on the brief history of success off Cishek, which grew longer when Nieuwenhuis boomed a double to center. That might have scored Quintanilla had third-base coach Tim Teufel not thrown up a hasty stop sign.
No need to force things with the winning run just 90 feet from home. All the Mets needed was a hit from Granderson, who was mired in a 2-for-30 slump.
Make that 3-for-31.
"If he starts to heat up," Collins said, "things are going to get much better."
Yet how much better can they get for a Mets team that has now won five of six and eight of 11? Regardless of what the offense does, the Mets will continue leaning on a rotation that has delivered 11 consecutive starts of three runs or fewer, producing a 1.81 ERA over that stretch. Wheeler contributed to that stat line Friday with his best start of the season, which was flawed only in its inefficiency -- he needed 110 pitches to complete six innings.
But Wheeler saved some of his best sliders and changeups for the trickiest spots, escaping particularly dicey jams in the fifth and sixth innings.
"You've got to make big pitches at certain points in the game," Wheeler said. "That's what I did."
Had it not been for back-to-back homers from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones in the eighth, Wheeler would have won. As it was, he watched from the sidelines as the Mets, for the second time this month, walked off winners at Citi Field.
Afterward, they congratulated each other on a victory snatched from the clutches of improbability. They've been doing it all year. Since opening the season 0-3 -- a tough start for a club that general manager Sandy Alderson predicted would win 90 games -- the Mets have played .650 ball.
They are now on pace for 92 wins. It's improbable that they will reach that mark, but improbability has not stopped the Mets yet.
"It can become a habit," Collins said of his team's late magic. "When you look back at some of those teams in recent years that have won, you're always seeing them on SportsCenter walking off, because they've got character and they don't quit. So hopefully we can build on this."