CINCINNATI -- The grand total Wednesday was eight runs, 11 hits, two homers and one complete game, and yet all the Mets could think about was what was missing. Carlos Beltran left Great American Ball Park about an hour before the Mets began their 8-2 dismantling of the Reds, leaving his former team unsure of its direction.
And so the Mets combated anxiety the only way they could, with perhaps their best overall team performance in weeks. Mike Pelfrey pitched a complete game. Lucas Duda, Beltran's replacement in right field, homered. David Wright crushed a three-run shot. And the Mets won their third consecutive game, moving to within one victory of a four-game series sweep of the contending Reds.
"There are a lot of guys in that room that have a lot of respect for Carlos Beltran -- still do, always will," manager Terry Collins said. "Today could have been a disappointing day for us, but they just picked themselves up."
They did it in large part thanks to Pelfrey, who was outspoken this week in his desire for the Mets to keep Beltran. Relying on what Reds third baseman Miguel Cairo called "just a lot of fast sinkers," Pelfrey allowed nothing more than Joey Votto's solo homer in the fourth and Chris Heisey's sacrifice fly in the seventh. After Votto doubled to lead off the ninth, Pelfrey induced the final three batters of the game to ground out, finishing with 108 pitches on a 90-degree night.
"That's as good as I've seen him," said first baseman Daniel Murphy, who amassed a career-high four hits, including two doubles. "When he's throwing the ball like that, it's fun to play behind him."
It was fitting, Collins said, that Pelfrey -- the team's symbolic stopper -- was on the mound on the day the Mets traded Beltran, just as it was fitting that Duda hit a homer. Suddenly the team's starting right fielder, Duda will be nearly as integral to the team's successes this season as Beltran was before him.
But the Mets will also require contributions from Wright, whose three-run homer off Jose Arredondo in the seventh inning put the game out of reach, and Jose Reyes, who recorded his league-high 48th multi-hit game. They will need improvement from Angel Pagan, who doubled home two runs off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo in the first inning, and more consistency from a bullpen that spent the night unused.
Most of all, they will need conviction.
"Obviously I think we're a better team with Carlos Beltran," Pelfrey said. "That doesn't mean that Lucas Duda or Scott Hairston or Willie Harris or whoever on our bench can't step up. It's unfortunate, but we're going to continue to go out there and play and continue to go out there and win."
Amongst themselves, the Mets are not conceding the season in the wake of this trade. It is one of baseball's accepted injustices that although the Mets entered this week sporting an identical record to the Reds and have since gained a three-game advantage, their opponents are legitimate contenders and they -- for the time being, at least -- are not. But perhaps that will change, given the injuries to Braves stars Brian McCann and Chipper Jones and the general mediocrity of the rest of the Wild Card field.
About an hour before first pitch, Beltran circled the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park, shaking hands and saying farewells. Shortly thereafter, sitting in the trainer's room, Harris laid out a plan.
"He said, 'Hey, let's make the playoffs, too, and let's beat Carlos Beltran in the playoffs,'" Pelfrey recalled. "Almost like it's motivation."
It can indeed be motivation, if the Mets can convince themselves of it.
"We trade our best player and send him home?" Harris said. "That'd be pretty cool."
Wednesday's game was a start in that direction, as therapeutic as it was necessary. Now one game away from sweeping the Reds, the Mets remain 7 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race, trailing five different teams. Odds are, they will not make the playoffs. Too many of their previous 103 games have not resembled Wednesday's victory in form or result.
But the Mets have suddenly added definition to their goals, for whatever it is worth.
"Obviously he was a big part of our team and he's been here so long," Pelfrey said of Beltran. "You develop relationships with guys, and that was the hardest thing to lose him. But you wish him the best, and I guess you kind of move on. You don't have a choice."