Watching Roy Oswalt toss a four-hit gem for the Phillies in a 3-0 victory Sunday, it would have been easy for the Mets to play the "what if?" game.
Facing Oswalt in a Phillies uniform Sunday, six weeks after the trade, served as a reminder of the opposite paths these two teams have been on since that time.
Oswalt (12-13), who improved to 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA with the Phillies, has pitched them back into the playoff picture. The Mets are in the midst of playing out the string for the second straight September.
If anyone in the Mets' clubhouse wondered whether their season could have gone differently if they had acquired Oswalt, they weren't about to admit it Sunday.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel laughed when asked if he had such thoughts, then said, "Next question. Next question. Next question."
David Wright added, "We didn't get him, so you can't look at it that way."
Adding Oswalt to a rotation that already featured top-flight starters Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels has been a significant factor in the Phillies' second-half surge. They're 27-15 since he arrived, have won his last eight starts and have moved a game ahead of second-place Atlanta.
"I feel like I've got a new life coming over here," Oswalt said. "I've been out of playoff contention for five years and now we're on the verge of trying to get back into the playoffs. These guys have been there the last two years. They've got a ring. I don't. Hopefully, I can push them to get another one."
The only championship talk with the Mets these days surrounds next season. But even those chances already have taken a hit. The team still is reeling from the news that Johan Santana needs another surgery, this time on his shoulder, and the estimated six-month rehab likely will force him to start next season on the disabled list.
The Mets already know how much Santana means to them, but seeing Oswalt dominate their hitters further drove home just how valuable a shutdown pitcher is.
Oswalt gave up four singles, walked one and never let a Met reach second base.
"You line him up with Halladay and Cole Hamels and that's a pretty good rotation," Wright said. "When you have those three front-line guys, your offense can struggle at times and you win games. You never really go into an extended funk because you have those three guys going in your rotation."
Niese (9-8), one of the two players the Mets refused to part with for Oswalt, threw a decent game, allowing three runs and eight hits in seven innings. That he took the loss on this day had more to do with whom he was pitching against than his own outing.
"What else can I say besides he pitched a gem," Niese said. "It's tough to win ballgames when the other guy pitches as well as he did."
The Phillies scored their runs on an RBI single by Chase Utley in the first, a two-out RBI single by Ryan Howard in the third and a laser of a homer to center by Raul Ibañez in the seventh. That three-run cushion was more than enough for Oswalt.
"He came right at us," Wright said. "When you got that kind of stuff and you're throwing strikes, it's tough to get to a guy like that."