DENVER - An afternoon of respite. A chance to exhale. An opportunity to look up at the vultures circling overhead, shake a finger and say, "Not today."
For that, the Mets and embattled manager Jerry Manuel can thank Mike Pelfrey, the person most responsible for yesterday's 5-0 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. With every game feeling like a must-win, Pelfrey delivered seven scoreless innings that helped the Mets avoid a sweep before a weekend series against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
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Still, the Mets have dropped three straight series and stand at a wobbly 3-6. Despite snapping a four-game losing streak, there was no music blasting in the postgame clubhouse, an indication that the Mets understand the urgency of their situation.
"It was big," Manuel said. "We needed a game like that. Pitching always establishes the tempo, and when we can pitch well, it gives us a chance."
Pelfrey (2-0) allowed five singles, struck out six and did not walk a batter as he trimmed his ERA to 1.38 after two starts. The performance stood out even more when held up against what the rest of the Mets' rotation has done - or not done.
Heading into yesterday's game, the starters had a 2-4 record and a 6.91 ERA. But with Pelfrey as point man in the hitter's paradise of Coors Field, the Mets not only posted their first shutout but did not let a Rockies runner reach third.
Last season, when Pelfrey was removed from a start at Coors Field, he was so frustrated that he ran laps in the stadium parking lot while the game continued inside. This time, he was unflappable.
Even after a balk in the fifth - Pelfrey stopped his delivery when Melvin Mora asked for but was not granted a timeout - he retired Mora on a grounder to strand Miguel Olivo at second.
"I feel in control of myself," Pelfrey said. "I wasn't going to let things bother me."
A year ago, Pelfrey unraveled after three balks during a May 17 game in San Francisco. It was hardly a laughing matter. But after yesterday's glitch, he could joke about this minor recurrence. "I'm not trying to lead the league in balks," Pelfrey said, smiling.
With the varied arsenal Pelfrey featured Thursday, he could wind up leading the league in more favorable categories. But it's about more than the pitches with Pelfrey, whose psyche is just as important as he tries to make the jump to elite status.
In two starts, he's done that, and the Rockies - a team many have picked to go deep in the playoffs - are a notch above the Nationals.
"That's as good as I've seen Pelf pitch," Jeff Francoeur said. "That's what a No. 2 guy has to do - when you lose the first two and you want to be a stud, you want to be that guy. Today was a big day for him showing what he can do. He pitched with a whole bunch of confidence."
Pelfrey also took an active role in reviving his team's sluggish offense. Jason Bay and Pelfrey himself had RBI singles for the Mets, who scored three of their five runs on a throwing error, a forceout and a wild pitch.
Pelfrey scored the second run after drawing a leadoff walk in the third. He broke for the plate on Luis Castillo's grounder to third, which was right behind him, and looked like a goner. But as he lowered his shoulder into catcher Miguel Olivo along the baseline, Ian Stewart's throw deflected off the 6-7 Pelfrey's back for an error that allowed him to score.
Unlike Wednesday night, the Mets didn't let this lead get away.
"I think we have enough character to handle some difficult situations and some adversity," Manuel said. "If we flinch or panic, then we really weren't ready. As long as we keep putting ourselves in that position, we're going to win games."