NEW YORK -- Within weeks of joining the Mets for good earlier this summer, Justin Turner set a franchise rookie record with an RBI in seven consecutive games. Rapidly, the Mets came to expect that sort of thing from Turner, an apt hitter throughout his Minor League career but never an elite run producer.
A regression to the mean has since sapped Turner's season of its more explosive attributes, if not its overall sufficiency. So it was worth noting that Turner's RBI, walk-off double in the Mets' 5-4 victory over the Cubs on Friday came complete with an endorsement from his manager.
"To be very, very honest, I think he's proven he can play in the big leagues," Terry Collins said in the game's immediate aftermath. "I think he's proven he belongs here."
Cubs reliever Sean Marshall, who served up Turner's game-winner in the ninth inning, might tend to agree. After Nick Evans led off the bottom of the inning with a single, Josh Thole sacrificed pinch-runner Jason Pridie to second base, and Ruben Tejada lined out, Marshall elected to intentionally walk the league's leading hitter, Jose Reyes.
That brought up Turner, who has hit .242 with a .316 on-base percentage since peaking at .337 and .384, respectively, in late May. Already 2-for-4 with one go-ahead RBI on the night, Turner rocked Marshall's 0-1 curveball over a drawn-in outfield, shooting it over center fielder Marlon Byrd's head and onto the grass for a game-winning hit.
It was infinitely more satisfying for Turner than his first career walk-off, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch against the A's in June.
"It didn't matter who it was going up to the plate," Turner said. "Anyone would want to drive in a run and win the game."
Turner's opportunity was made possible only because Manny Acosta, taking his second crack at the closer's role this week, blew a save amidst less-than-fortuitous circumstances. A walk on a borderline pitch, a bloop single and a ground ball hit by Darwin Barney led to a Cubs run in the ninth, undoing the early work of Turner, Mike Pelfrey and Jason Bay.
After escaping a one-out, bases-loaded jam of his own making in the first inning and serving up Carlos Pena's two-run homer in the third, Pelfrey allowed just one additional run over 6 2/3 innings. Bay's outfield assist to gun down Bryan LaHair at home plate in the fourth inning sparked a run of nine consecutive outs for Pelfrey, who submitted his second quality start in his last seven attempts.
"I want to throw 111 [pitches] like I did tonight and be walking off the field in the ninth inning, instead of the seventh," Pelfrey said, bemoaning his own inefficiency. "But I thought I got better after the first inning."
So, too, did the Mets, who watched Cubs starter Casey Coleman's first pitch whiz by untouched eight times out of nine during their first time through the order, before realizing, in a sense, that they were being duped. So wild the last time he faced the Mets, Coleman did not stray far from the strike zone on Friday, prompting the Mets to make an in-game adjustment.
The second time through the batting order the Mets began hacking, starting with Turner's single to lead off the third. David Wright, Bay and Evans all drove in runs that inning -- Bay racking up his second double, extending his hitting streak to eight games and recording his fourth multihit game in his last five starts.
"I knew that was what was going to happen," Coleman said. "They strung some hits together. You can't do anything about it."
Coleman lasted only a few batters after Turner drove in the apparent game-deciding run with his double in the fifth inning, plating Reyes, who extended his own hitting streak to 12 games and maintained his edge over Ryan Braun in the National League batting race.
But despite some stout bullpen work from Josh Stinson, Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell, Acosta could not escape the ninth unscathed.
"Manny's been throwing great," Collins said. "So tonight I thought I'd close with him."
As a result, the onus shifted to Turner. Though the infielder's production has dropped off over the past three months, Turner still figures to be among the primary competitors for the Mets' starting second base job next spring. He may not win the job, given the recent strong play of Ruben Tejada and the possibility that Daniel Murphy returns from injury at full strength.
But days such as Friday have given the Mets every reason to believe that Turner will be a part of their plans in one way or another.
"He's been here through thick and thin all summer long," Collins said. "He's played in big games. He's played hurt half the year. I think he's proven he belongs here."