The Mets celebrate around Ruben Tejada (11), who scored the...

The Mets celebrate around Ruben Tejada (11), who scored the winning run on Nick Evans' single in the 10th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Sept. 13, 2010) Credit: AP

For the second September in a row, the Mets are stuck playing meaningless games in front of tiny home crowds while more important sporting events are drawing eyeballs away from the team-owned TV network.

The term "meaningless games" is best exemplified by the four-game series against the Pirates that opened last night with a 1-0, 10-inning Mets win at Citi Field.

Pittsburgh began the night 32 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central, the Mets 12 1/2 out in the East.

One area of solace for Mets executives - at least the ones who will be back after the season - is that they are getting a good look at some of the young players who could be important parts of the team in 2011 and beyond.

That was not really the case last September, when many innings and at-bats went to players who were mere roster-fillers. Fernando Tatis. Tim Redding. Cory Sullivan. Just to name a few.

Last night's lineup included Ike Davis and Josh Thole, likely starters at first base and catcher, respectively, on Opening Day 2011. It included Lucas Duda, who has seemed overmatched in his first taste of big-league action but at least is getting that taste.

And it included starting pitcher Dillon Gee, who followed up his impressive big-league debut with six scoreless innings. Gee, who allowed five hits with four walks and three strikeouts, worked out of numerous jams.

"Just made some decent pitches when I had to," he said. "Could have easily went the other way. I'm just glad it went my way."

The only run of the game was a youngster production, too: Ruben Tejada hit a one-out double in the 10th and scored on Nick Evans' single to left off Chan Ho Park. It was the Mets' first run in 19 innings. Evans and Tejada will start the next two games against lefthanded pitchers, manager Jerry Manuel said.

"I think when you have youth involved then there's always somewhat of excitement, anticipation of what they're able to do," Manuel said. "For the most part, despite not being where we want to be, we do feel fortunate an Ike Davis has come along, a Josh Thole has come along, a Jonathon Niese has come along, and feel as though they are pieces that can be pieces to a championship club."

Gee could be in the mix for a rotation spot next spring, especially with Johan Santana's availability for the start of the season in jeopardy thanks to the shoulder surgery he will undergo Tuesday.

Gee opened eyes in his first major-league start on Tuesday in Washington. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished allowing two hits and one run in seven innings.

"He has a chance to be a decent pitcher at this level," Manuel said. "When you throw shutout innings, it has to translate into something positive."

So the few thousand fans who ventured into Citi Field last night had something to look at that was meaningful. And many of them got a free seat upgrade as the Mets let fans in the upper deck migrate to the lower levels after the game was delayed at the start by rain for 43 minutes.