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SportsColumnistsJim Baumbach

Dramatic Mets make themselves hard to ignore

The Mets have become baseball's version of that late-night movie you find on television right before you're about to go to sleep, the movie that ultimately keeps you awake an extra hour or two.

We've all been there. You keep telling yourself that you're going to turn the television off at the next commercial, but for some reason you never do. Deep down you want to see where this movie you've never heard of is going, even though if you know you're better off getting to bed.

It's still hard to envision this Mets team playing postseason games in October, but at the same time it sure is hard to turn them off, to count them out. Their record says they're only slightly better than a .500 team, which means you can't call them a contender. But we're still watching. We're still intrigued. And why not?

Last night's game included all the features that make this team so interesting - and excruciating - at the same time. They started the night looking to build on the momentum from the previous night, when their bats finally made some noise en route to a much-needed victory to kick off this homestand.

Then Johan Santana, of all people, flopped. It took him 19 minutes and 38 pitches to get through the first inning, and by the time it was over the Cardinals had sent 12 batters to the plate, scorched eight hits off the Mets ace and built what seemed to be a comfortable six-run lead.

But if you were to pinpoint the best characteristic of Mets team, it has to be their ability to produce drama, night after night. No wonder SNY's television ratings for Mets telecasts are up this season. How can anyone turn their backs on this team after they way they've proven to always make things interesting.

For their latest trick, they made the Cardinals' six-run lead vanish.

The Mets began chipping away in the bottom of the first inning with Mike Hessman's two-run double, followed by Carlos Beltran's solo homer in the sixth. Then in the eighth the Mets rewarded their lively crowd for sticking around despite the early hole, scoring four times to tie it at 7. There was a two-run home run by Angel Pagan and a pinch-hit two-run single by Ike Davis, who started the night on the bench with a lefthander pitching.

Before the game Jerry Manuel described his team as being "in transition," saying they still very much had a chance because the National League was filled with many good teams but no great teams. The key, he said, would be how quickly his team can recover from their recent swindle.

And the Mets' struggles run deeper than their 2-9 West Coast swing to start the second half. They entered last night looking for their first two-game winning streak in more than a month. The last time they won two straight was back on June 22-23, against the Tigers at Citi Field. They've lost 19 of 29 games since.

But Manuel believes they're better than that. "We feel pretty good about ourselves that we can start clicking the way we have done before earlier in the season," the Mets manager said.

Just when you think the Mets season is doomed, they find a way to draw you back in. Give them credit for being resilient, for remaining relevant and interesting.

There's two months left in the regular season, and you might recall that they won 35 of 55 games over a two-month stretch from April 19 until June 18. Can they do that again? You can't rule it out. And that's why it's so hard to turn this team off.

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