No wonder the giddy manager wrapped his arms around Hisanori Takahashi in the dugout after he supplied another six scoreless innings last night to help the Mets beat the Phillies, 5-0, at Citi Field.
With Manuel on the brink, his players responded with back-to-back series wins over last year's World Series teams - as well as two straight shutouts of the Phillies - to move above .500 (24-23) for the first time since May 13.
The Mets also became the first team to win back-to-back series against the previous year's Fall Classic clubs since the 2003 Dodgers, who beat the Giants and Angels that season.
"We're having a blast," said Rod Barajas, who had three RBIs, including a two-run double in the sixth inning. "We're playing good baseball right now. We believe in ourselves. We can relax and play our game. We know we're going to be OK."
If the rotation keeps performing as it has lately, the Mets are going to be considerably better than OK. Takahashi has not allowed a run in 12 innings in his first two starts for the Mets. Overall, their starters are 5-0 in the last nine games with a major league best 1.37 ERA in that span.
"We're beating quality teams," Jason Bay said. "And if you're not a quality team, you're not going to be able to do that. It's still May, but these games count just as much as later on. We're playing pretty well right now."
Takahashi began the season as a reliever after 202 starts in Japan and he earned his first victory as a Mets starter since joining the rotation last Friday.
Takahashi (4-1, 2.13 ERA) struck out six and did not allow a walk to match Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey with four home wins. That's good company, and coming off these two gems, Manuel no longer views Takahashi as a stopgap replacement for his three missing starters.
"Yeah, he's in the rotation," Manuel said, "and it will be tough to get him out. He can be a tremendous asset for us."
Jose Reyes continued his resurgence with two hits, including his first home run since May 7 last year. He's 9-for-19 the past four games in raising his average from .211 to .238. Reyes has four consecutive multi-hit games, and since returning to the leadoff spot is batting .300 (15-for-50) with nine runs, a homer and five RBIs.
The biggest threat Takahashi faced came in the sixth after a leadoff single by Shane Victorino. One out later, Chase Utley's hit put runners at first and third, but Takahashi whiffed Ryan Howard with a changeup and got Jayson Werth to fly to right.
With a gametime temperature of 87 degrees, Takahashi appeared spent after 94 pitches, and he waited by the dugout rail to shake hands with the rest of the Mets as they trotted off the field. Manuel hugged him, saying, "Good job," and Takahashi was comforted that his spot in the rotation now seems secure.
"I don't know much about that," Takahashi said through an interpreter. "But I can do it. If they want me to stay in the rotation, I'll do my best."
He allowed five hits - four singles - and none of the Mets really had to run far for the outs. The lone exception was Reyes, who hustled into shallow center for an over-the-shoulder catch to rob Brian Schneider in the fifth. Takahashi kept the Phillies off balance just as he did the Yankees - with precise location and an array of speeds that ranged from 68 to 90 mph.
"I was a starter for more than 10 years in Japan," Takahashi said. "I know my pitching style, and I can do the same thing in the major leagues."