A little over two months ago, the Mets sent Oliver Perez on a journey to such exotic locales as Buffalo, Port St. Lucie and Coney Island, with one assignment: Find the strike zone!

Last night, they brought him back to Flushing only to discover that despite all his travels, he still hasn't the slightest idea where it is.

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In fact, if anything, he came back with less of a clue as to its location than before he left.

But because for the first time in a week, the Mets were able to find their own elusive Holy Grail - the way to home plate - they survived yet another typical Ollie Odyssey: five erratic innings, a dozen different deliveries, release points and arm slots, a ton of pitches thrown (108) and roughly one out of the strike zone for every one in.

And oh yeah, seven walks, his highest total of the year and just one shy of his personal best.

Meet the new Ollie. Same as the old Ollie. If he got paid by the walk, he'd be a whole lot richer than he already is, half a season into a three-year contract that will pay him $36 million over its term, unless, of course, the Mets finally get fed up and walk away from him first.

Obviously, in relation to the rest of the planet, the strike zone is an incredibly minuscule area, but for a starting pitcher in the major leagues, especially one deemed by the Mets to be worth more than all but a dozen in all of baseball, it better be as large, familiar and accessible as a corner office.

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But Perez still needs a GPS to find it, and at this point, in his eighth major-league season, it's doubtful if he will ever visit it on a regular basis.

Once again, the Mets didn't win because of Perez but despite him, surviving his wildness as well as the increasing shakiness of Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod allowed a leadoff home run to Manny Ramirez in the ninth, followed by a walk to Casey Blake and a single to Russell Martin before settling down to preserve a desperately needed 5-4 victory, snapping a four-game losing streak in which the Mets scored a total of three runs.

Before the game, Jerry Manuel, an erudite type, answered a question wondering if he turned to any older, wiser managers for counsel in this time of total team crisis.

"Counsel?'' he said. "Shoot, I need Gandhi and King.''

Luckily for those two men of peace, neither ever had to endure watching Oliver Perez pitch. It would have given King nightmares and prompted Gandhi to take a bat to a water cooler.

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The fans in the ballpark, however, got no such reprieve. Perez walked Rafael Furcal, the first batter he faced, on four pitches. None of them was close. Two outs later, he needed eight pitches to walk Blake. Then, Mark Loretta lined an RBI single to left. Of Perez's first 12 pitches, eight were balls.

He was even worse in the third, when after getting two quick outs, he missed on 12 of his next 14 deliveries, walking the bases loaded. But fortunately for Perez and the Mets, the Dodgers had also misplaced something last night - the timely hit. When Andre Ethier lined out to third, the threat died.

Meanwhile, the Mets, who went 23 innings without scoring a run and four full games without an extra-base hit, got a double from Daniel Murphy to end that drought in the first, another from Jeremy Reed in the second to set up their first run, and yet another from Murphy to spark a three-run third inning, the Mets' equivalent of an offensive explosion. They added another run in the fifth on three singles and a walk to complete their most productive night since July 2.

By then, Perez was safely out of the game, having muddled through his five innings, helped tremendously by a fourth-inning double play and the Dodgers' inability to get runners home - they stranded eight during Perez's stint, 12 overall.

Still, for now, the Mets stemmed the bleeding and found their own way to a place they seemed to have permanently misplaced, which is the win column.

But for Oliver Perez, the long, lonely search goes on.