Outside of the scoreboard, which still was in their favor, the scene looked awfully messy for the Mets when Vic Black entered Saturday night's game with none out in the seventh. A six-run lead had been cut to four, the bases were loaded, two runs were in and David Wright was out.
That merely was a perfect setup for Black, who has emerged as the club's cleanup pitcher. He retired the only three batters he faced, allowed no runs, restored order and helped preserve a victory for Jonathon Niese. It was a 7-3 win over the Cubs, which left the Mets feeling really relieved.
"I owe a lot to Vic. I don't think I've seen a reliever get out of as big of a jam as he did tonight," said Niese (7-8), who secured his 50th career victory as a Met.
Niese was fine for six innings as he headed for his second consecutive victory after four losses. But beginning the seventh with a 7-1 lead, he allowed five consecutive hits (one more than the Mets managed in the entire game), starting with a homer by Justin Ruggiano.
So it was 7-3 with the bases loaded when he went to the dugout and started thinking, "Please help me out."
Black retired Chris Coghlan on a short fly to left, Javier Baez on a pop-up to first and Anthony Rizzo on a pop to shortstop, and the whole night was changed.
Wright appreciated it from the trainer's room, where he spent the seventh after being hit by a pitch in the left shoulder, which has been such a problem that he had to get a cortisone shot there last month.
He will see how it feels Sunday. The finish Saturday night, with Black followed by Jeurys Familia and Buddy Carlyle, removed the sting. "Our bullpen,'' Wright said, "these guys are just lights out."
It was Black who turned out the lights on the Cubs in what seemed to be a desperate situation.
Black, who had lost the setup job in spring training and made his way back to the majors after a stint in Las Vegas, said Terry Collins' instruction went this way: "Try to get a ground ball."
"I said, 'A ground ball? At best it's a double play; if it's not to home, that's a run scored,' " Black said, insisting that his mindset in that situation clearly is not "limit the damage."
"No damage," he said with a smile.
He is used to this kind of atmosphere. Black has stranded the past 15 runners he has inherited, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (which counts a runner as stranded only if the pitcher finishes the inning). It has gotten so that Collins and staff figure it is better to put him in a game in a tough situation rather than allow him to start a "clean" inning.
"He has been unbelievable,'' Collins said. "His command is 10 times better with guys on. I don't know if he's focused that he's got to get outs. He has pitched brilliantly.
"He's just a tough guy, he's not afraid, he's not afraid to fail. That kind of attitude, you have to have that here because there's going to be nights where you're going to have some failure."
Aside from Juan Lagares' run-scoring double and Wilmer Flores' two-run single in the second, the Mets had some failures on offense, inasmuch as they collected only four hits. They scored four runs on one hit in the sixth (the key play being centerfielder Arismendy Alcantara's failure to snag Lagares' liner).
But the night was salvaged by Black, who said he is uniquely qualified to avoid fear of failure. "Failing a lot," he said.
Actually, he relied on success in tough spots, such as a bases-loaded, none-out spot in his freshman year at Dallas Baptist.
Saturday night was much better for this cleanup pitcher. "It feels good, but these are things we expect to get done,'' Black said. "Terry puts us in there, this is our job. This is what we're here to do."