SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Mets allowed the non-waiver Trade Deadline to pass quietly this week, their general manager, Sandy Alderson, made a point to say that "we haven't given up on the season" and that "we think we still have lots of good baseball in front of us" and that "there's a lot of value in making a run, even if it's unrealistic."
But the Mets won again Thursday, 9-1, over the Giants, winning their first series in a month to complete the first two-thirds of their West Coast road swing with a 5-3 record. One of the worst teams in baseball awaits this weekend in San Diego. And two months remain for the Mets to embark upon the sort of improbable run they once envisioned.
"That's the frustration with us is it's there sometimes, and then it's not other times," outfielder Jason Bay said. "But it's definitely better than the way things were going."
In flashes, at least, the Mets have shown the ability to make things interesting. Struggling starter Chris Young rebounded from a winless July to limit the Giants to one run over seven innings on Thursday, for example, while Ronny Cedeno backed him with a three-hit, career-high-tying five-RBI afternoon at AT&T Park.
Making one of his sporadic starts against a left-handed starter, Cedeno began producing early, doubling home two runs off Barry Zito in the first. Not long after the Mets knocked Zito out of the game in the fifth, the second baseman greeted reliever Shane Loux with an RBI single. Then he doubled home two more runs off Loux in the seventh.
"See the ball, hit the ball," Cedeno said of his approach at the plate. "I don't really think too much, just go out there and hit."
Even the slumping Bay contributed to the drubbing of Zito, lifting a two-run single over shortstop in the first. David Wright and Daniel Murphy also drove in runs against the 13-year veteran, who gave up seven in total.
It was the opposite story for Young, who rebounded from one of his worst starts of the season to submit easily his best, pitching seven innings with four hits, four strikeouts and no walks. Setting down 11 of the first 13 batters he faced, Young ceded his only run on Hunter Pence's sacrifice fly in the fourth, after Melky Cabrera hit a leadoff triple. Young's response? The right-hander set down another eight straight batters and 12 of his last 13, before giving way to a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
"He has that deception with his height, and we weren't able to find many holes," Pence said, referring to Young's unorthodox delivery. "We hit some balls hard, but you have to find some holes, too."
Still, the day was a battle for those in the field. As is his custom as an extreme-fly-ball pitcher, Young recorded 10 of his 21 outs through the air, where a bright sun made life difficult on his outfielders. Bay, the left fielder, joked that Young was "the absolute worst guy" to have on the mound.
But the defense held. The Mets did not commit an error. As a result, they moved back within two games of a .500 record.
"Especially the teams we've beat the last couple times, it definitely helps," Bay said. "Ultimately, they all count the same."
For the Mets, there is little secret to their improvement. After relying so heavily on their starting pitchers over the first three months of the season, New York saw its rotation crumble when Dillon Gee and Johan Santana endured injuries and Young, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese all began scuffling to varying degrees. Combined, Mets pitchers posted a 5.25 ERA in July, compared to a 3.85 mark the rest of the season.
"We came out of Spring Training and we liked our rotation a lot," manager Terry Collins said. "They showed why. They got us off to a good start. Everybody's going to have bad starts now and then, but for the most part our rotation has kept us in games."
So with their starting pitchers seemingly back on track, the Mets believe their worst skid of the season is officially complete.
Beyond that? Even they cannot say.
"We've got to keep playing hard," Cedeno said. "We've got to continue to play hard, and you never know what's going to happen."