DENVER -- Terry Collins had stressed it the night before at Coors Field, lamenting that leads "are never safe here." So it was Sunday afternoon, when the Mets received a standout performance from Johan Santana and finally supported him with some early offense, only to blow two late leads at Coors.
It could have made for an unhappy plane ride to Houston. Instead, Ike Davis cued a party by plating the winning run in a 6-5 victory with his ground-ball single in the 11th. The Mets dressed up afterward in cowboy hats and boots and wore brightly-colored serapes, celebrating only the finer points of their fifth win in six games.
"There were some very positive things today," Collins said, "... We should have won this game a lot easier than we did."
After David Wright and Lucas Duda led off the 11th with consecutive singles, Davis squirted a bouncing ball past a drawn-in left side of the infield, plating Wright with the go-ahead run. And yet even then, the Mets could not be entirely sure what that meant. They had already taken two previous leads, only to watch Jon Rauch walk the bases loaded in the eighth, Tim Byrdak serve up Todd Helton's game-tying grand slam, and Frank Francisco blow his first save on Carlos Gonzalez's 10th-inning homer.
So it was not until Scott Hairston settled under Marco Scutaro's shot to the warning track in the bottom of the 11th that the Mets exhaled some thin mountain air. They had escaped.
"It was just a wild game," pinch-hitter Mike Baxter said. "It was a wild series, in general each game here was pretty crazy."
Baxter called the effort "resilient," which was in large part due to him. Two innings after Helton ignited Coors Field's 36,690 fans with his pinch-hit grand slam, Baxter delivered his fifth hit -- a one-out single -- in 11 pinch-hit opportunities this season. Moments later, he scored from first on Kirk Nieuwenhuis' bloop double down the left-field line, understanding immediately that Gonzalez had no chance to catch it.
But Francisco blew the lead and the Rockies coughed up another run, before the Mets finally closed things out in hair-raising style.
"It was definitely painful," Gonzalez said.
"It kind of had the feel of an old boxing match," added Nieuwenhuis, who saved a run in the fifth inning with his diving catch of Jonathan Herrera's liner. "It was just kind of a slugfest."
And yet it was not -- at least not in the context of the previous two games at Coors, which saw the Mets and Rockies combine for 39 runs and 58 hits. This one included a modest 11 runs and 24 hits, three of which belonged to Ruben Tejada -- the first Met to hit safely 10 times in a three-game series since Edgardo Alfonzo in 2000.
Though the Mets had little trouble batting in the early innings against 49-year-old Rockies starter Jamie Moyer, they could not come up with the key hit to knock Moyer out of the game. It did not seem to matter at the time only because Santana was cruising and for the first time in five starts, the Mets were supporting him.
Starting on regular rest for the first time this season, Santana -- despite what Collins called mediocre command of his pitches -- scattered two hits and three walks, throwing 90 pitches in six scoreless innings. Not counting his one poor outing in Atlanta earlier this month, the left-hander has an 0.79 ERA in four starts, with 29 strikeouts against 10 walks in 22 1/3 innings.
Run support has been the left-hander's only issue. Entering Sunday's play, the Mets had not scored a single run while Santana has been in a game, pushing him to an 0-2 record in five starts.
Then again, the fact that Santana's record is only 0-2, and not worse, is a testament to how well he has pitched.
"We won, and that's all I care about," he said. "At some point, we'll do the little things. It takes a whole team effort to win one game, even though I did my job. Everybody still has to come through."
On Sunday, some did and some did not, though Santana did not name names. The goats and heroes knew who they were as they marched onto the team bus, wearing western and Mexican gear as part of a team-bonding exercise hatched by the players.
By taking two of three from the Rockies, the Mets have now won five of their last six games after dropping five of their previous six. Their ace is pitching well and their offense is thriving. Sunday's win moved them back to a season-high four games above .500, a mark they have reached three times this season.
That, they said in their various ways, was all that mattered.
"I expect this team to fight until the last second," Francisco said. "And that's what we did -- fight."