SAN DIEGO -- Dillon Gee threw well on Wednesday. He mixed his pitches. He turned a nifty double play. He took a fastball off his knee and continued to perform.
"What we saw today," manager Terry Collins said afterward, "is what we kind of came to expect from him."
Yet the Mets had seen precious little of it leading up to Wednesday's 7-3 victory over the Padres at PETCO Park. Increasingly, they had seen a pitcher hesitant to throw anything but his fastball, as he faded statistically after a superlative start to the season.
Wednesday marked a reversal of fortune in all the right ways. Cruising through most of the afternoon, Gee allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings in one of his best starts since June.
"I really think it's all about how you finish," Gee said, citing an improved changeup as the key to his success. "For me, to go out and turn things around that outing -- I'm just looking forward to hopefully continuing it."
Changeup aside, one of the main keys for Gee was the defense behind him, beginning with Jason Pridie's fine catch of Will Venable's fly ball leading off the first. Gee added his own highlight in the third inning, reaching behind his back to stab Jason Bartlett's grounder and start a double play.
Equally critical was a bit of trickery from David Wright in the fourth. Diving to stop Logan Forsythe's ground-ball single near the third-base bag, Wright leaped to his feet and faked a throw to first, prompting Cameron Maybin to round third and take several steps toward home. That was enough of a window for Wright to dive back to the base and tag Maybin for the inning's final out.
"I can remember trying to do that when I was younger," said Wright, who noted that the play has worked for him before -- and that he never had any intention of throwing to first. "If you play long enough, you start getting different instincts. I was kind of lucky on that one."
Needing at least a morsel of offense to support Gee, the Mets received it in the third, when Wright redirected a high fastball into the left-field seats for a three-run homer off Mat Latos. It was their only offense against Latos, who allowed only three other hits and struck out six. But it was enough.
"He's one of the best hitters in their lineup," Latos said of Wright. "It was a fastball, middle, with good velocity on it. But I guess it wasn't that good."
More runs came during an eighth-inning rally that saw Angel Pagan drive home two baserunners and Willie Harris plate another. And with that, Gee improved to a team-best 11-4 -- because, as Collins said, "he pitched like he knows how."
As a result, the Mets won their first series ever at PETCO Park, taking two of three from the Padres.
Under early-season circumstances, the Mets could have swallowed a 2-4 road trip without too much issue, understanding the perils of playing out west. But this particular visit cooked the Mets, if they were not cooked already. A three-game sweep in Arizona last weekend terminated their last shreds of playoff contention, and left a broken team to pick up its pieces in San Diego.
The Mets did the best they could -- which, as it turns out, was better than anything the Padres could muster. And Gee played a leading role.
Since roaring out to a 7-0 record and 2.86 ERA to begin his rookie season, Gee has faded, as the National League has grown accustomed to his style of pitching. At the nadir of his struggles, Gee became tentative with his offspeed pitches, descending into long stretches without throwing anything but fastballs.
Wednesday was a departure from that. And it was little coincidence that the Mets won.
Had Padres reliever Pat Neshek not plunked him on the right knee with a pitch in the seventh inning, Gee might have even extended his outing a bit longer.
Though Gee did not believe the pitch affected him on the mound, he allowed two doubles in the bottom of the inning, as well as a run. After walking pinch-hitter Kyle Blanks, Gee gave way to Tim Byrdak, who subsequently walked James Darnell to load the bases. Manny Acosta came on to fan Jason Bartlett to squelch the threat.
Now, Gee knows he must bottle that sort of effort. To fade down the stretch would sour what has, for the most part, been a fine season for him. Reverting back to his early-season form, meanwhile, would place him squarely in the team's plans for next season.
"Any time you're in your first full season in the big leagues, you don't know what it's like to get through a whole season until you experience it," Collins said. "I think it's going to be really good for him to be able to pace himself the last six weeks, and give us some quality starts as we finish."
Wednesday's start provided a blueprint for how. Sort of. Asked what he did specifically to improve, Gee shrugged and threw both hands in the air.
"I don't know," he said. "It's just one of those things."