DENVER -- Mike Baxter was able to joke afterward, because the task did not ultimately fall upon his shoulders. But Baxter, an infielder-turned-outfielder who had not pitched in an organized baseball game since Little League, was nearly pressed into mound duty during the Mets' nightmare of a loss Friday night against the Rockies. Believing he would have to pitch, Baxter at one point went as far as to jog from his position in left field all the way to the infield dirt.
So it was within that context that Dillon Gee took the mound Saturday evening on his 26th birthday, a day after the Mets burned five of their seven relievers in a lopsided loss. More than anything else, the Mets needed length from their starting pitcher. And Gee responded by throwing a career-high 116 pitches in a 7-5 victory over the Rockies.
"I knew I was going to have to be sharp coming into tonight," Gee said. "I knew I needed to be on."
It was not as if Gee took the mound and simply buzzed through Colorado's lineup; in truth, he almost did not make it out of the fourth inning, after the first four batters he faced all reached base. Though Gee managed to minimize that trouble with a well-timed ground ball and a popup, opposing pitcher Guillermo Moscoso hit what -- at the time, at least -- appeared to be a back-breaking, two-out RBI single.
But that was it. With his pitch count climbing, Gee struck out Marco Scutaro to end the inning, then started grooving. He retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. He did not give way to a pinch-hitter with 89 pitches in the sixth inning. He made it all the way through seven, throwing more pitches than anyone in blue and orange this season.
In short, Gee salvaged.
"You've got to give their starting pitcher a lot of credit," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He settled down nicely after the fourth inning."
After giving back an early lead, the Mets took control of the game for good when Lucas Duda singled home two runs off Moscoso with two outs in the fifth. Duda had hit a two-run home run earlier in the game, with David Wright contributing an RBI double in the third inning and a run-scoring single in the fifth.
"The balls are falling," said Duda, who is hitting .429 with eight RBIs over his last six games. "Luck's kind of going my way right now."
The Mets are certainly thrilled with that. But this was a group that rapped out nine runs and 17 hits of its own in Friday's loss; offensive production was not troubling them heading into Saturday's play. Of greater concern was a rotation that, after thriving for so much of the young season, had appeared to hit a rough patch. Other than Jon Niese, who has been routinely effective, every member of the starting five has endured some sort of mid-April blip.
Hardly immune to that was Gee, who gave up seven runs and a dozen hits last Monday in one of the worst starts of his career. If not reason for alarm, it was at least reason to fret over a bullpen that taxed itself in the span of one game. Baxter, after all, had been preparing to pitch not 24 hours earlier.
But Gee, the team's fifth starter, delivered the type of momentum-stopping game that most teams expect from their ace. It was hardly the best game a Mets pitcher has thrown this season, nor the most effective. But in terms of pitches, it was the longest, which on this night was just as important.
"We needed some innings, there was no question," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Dillon was going to have to throw 100 pitches today, because we were just short in the 'pen."
In truth, Gee threw 116. And largely because of that effort, the Mets won their fourth game in five tries after losing five of their previous six.
As for Baxter, the would-be pitcher made only a cameo in this one, leading off the ninth with a pinch-hit double and later scoring on a wild pitch. Tim Byrdak pitched a scoreless eighth inning, before Frank Francisco closed out an adventurous ninth. And the Mets were glad for it.
"I've been working really hard on trying to stay positive out there, and just trying to make the best of what you're given," Gee said. "All you can do is focus on each pitch at a time. The results after that kind of take care of themselves."