LOS ANGELES -- The Mets, in the words of their general manager, are "relevant" again. Done hanging around baseball's sticky break-even mark, the Mets suddenly find themselves on an upward trend. But to remain relevant (and, in doing so, to remain intact once the non-waiver Trade Deadline has come and gone), they must continue to win series, even without injured shortstop Jose Reyes.
Recently, the going on that front has been breezy. The Mets' 5-3 victory on Wednesday ensured a series victory in Los Angeles, putting them in position to attempt their first four-game sweep of the Dodgers. Ever since their star shortstop -- "the best player in the league," as manager Terry Collins calls him -- strained his hamstring, the Mets have been unbeatable.
"If you would have told me we were going to win without Jose, I would have said, 'How?'" Collins said. "I truly believe these guys, when he went down, they said, 'We've got to rally. We've got to rally around each other and get it done.'"
So they have. Wednesday's victory was largely the work of Jon Niese, who limited the Dodgers to three runs -- and effectively held them to less than that -- over seven innings. If not for umpire Greg Gibson's missed call on a potential double-play ball in the sixth inning, Niese might have allowed less damage -- and perhaps even pitched deeper into the game. As it was, he still won for the fifth time in his last seven decisions, leaning on his curveball more than he had during a recent patch of struggles.
"Our game plan was to work ahead and be aggressive and just mix all of our pitches," Niese said. "If we mixed all of our pitches we could keep them off-balance, and that's what we did."
Continuing to fill in for Reyes at shortstop, Ruben Tejada gave the Mets their most significant offensive boost, doubling home two runs in the sixth against Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda. Coming into the game ranked third in the Majors in two-out offense, the Mets scored all five of their runs with two men retired. In addition to Tejada's double, Carlos Beltran -- who finished 2-for-5 with two doubles, extending his hitting streak to 11 games -- scored on a wild pitch with two outs in the sixth, shortly after baiting left fielder Eugenio Velez into a throwing error.
Lucas Duda also doubled home Beltran with two outs in the fourth, and Justin Turner singled home Willie Harris with two outs in the ninth.
"Unless I missed a meeting, it's not something that we sit around and discuss," outfielder Jason Bay said of the two-out offense. "I think it's just a focus thing."
The magic -- or whatever it is -- may soon run out for the Mets, who are scheduled to oppose a run of as many as seven consecutive All-Star starters beginning Thursday against Clayton Kershaw. Only now they will enter that stretch flush with the confidence of a four-game winning streak, suddenly believing they can hit anyone and everyone.
The Mets were not supposed to survive a recent stretch of three consecutive series against the American League's three first-place teams. They did. They were not supposed to survive the ensuing seven-game West Coast swing. With Wednesday's victory, they've already guaranteed a passable showing.
"We lost Jose," Bay said. "It would have been easy to kind of roll over with all the guys we're missing and just wait to get them back. Guys have stepped up."
"This is the type of team we are," catcher Josh Thole said. "That's the camaraderie we have around here."
The Mets also know that they can't stop now. General manager Sandy Alderson made the trip out West with the Mets, indicating before Wednesday's game that as long as the team continues winning, he will find it difficult to trade away its parts. But a sudden slide -- even against a run of All-Star starters -- could force Alderson to trade Beltran, Jason Isringhausen, Francisco Rodriguez or others.
Wednesday provided a glimpse of what life might look like if the Mets start dealing. After Collins decided to remove Niese from the game after seven innings and 97 pitches, the Mets turned to Bobby Parnell -- not Isringhausen -- for the eighth. Parnell proceeded to blow away the top half of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's lineup, catching Andre Ethier looking on a 90 mph slider on the outside corner.
If Rodriguez, who closed out the game, is traded, Parnell would likely assume the team's ninth-inning duties. But as long as the Mets remain "relevant," they will not need to discuss such contingencies.
They'll leave that sort of talk to others. As Kuroda, the Dodgers starter, said after Wednesday's game, "It never feels good to lose."
Right now, the Mets wouldn't know.