PHILADELPHIA -- By the time Ryan Howard grounded the weekend's 1,261st pitch into Lucas Duda's glove, the Mets knew little beyond exhaustion. They had just completed their 39th inning since Friday evening, playing 14 hours and 24 minutes of baseball over a 46-hour span. But they won two of three within that timeframe, including Sunday's 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Phillies, so they harped not on their physical and mental fatigue.
"They're very, very good games to win," manager Terry Collins said. "It lifts the spirits. It does keep the energy up, even though you're tired physically. It sure beats sitting in there going, 'Oh gosh, I hope it doesn't happen again tomorrow.'"
Still, some sense of déjà vu was inevitable at Citizens Bank Park, as the Mets descended into extra innings for a franchise record-tying third consecutive game. Much of the Mets' previous day had been spent checking on the status of their bullpen, which pitched a total of 17 innings -- nearly two complete games -- on Friday and Saturday. The Mets imported one relief pitcher from the Minors for Saturday's game, then another for Sunday's encore. In the home clubhouse, the Phillies were following suit.
It was one of Philadelphia's new guys, Phillippe Aumont, who cracked in the 11th inning, walking Travis d'Arnaud with two outs. That brought up Duda, who drilled an Aumont fastball over the wall in straightaway center. Mets closer Jenrry Mejia gave up a solo homer to Marlon Byrd in the bottom of the 11th, but held on for the save.
"I was just trying to hit the ball hard," Duda said. "I got lucky."
The few able bodies the Mets had left in their bullpen may have been the true lucky ones, considering the implications if this one had gone a bit longer. As it was, Mets starter Jon Niese spared his team most of that ugliness -- thanks to his efficiency early in the game.
Entering the day with a plan of throwing more fastballs than usual, seeking to challenge Philadelphia's hitters with strikes down the middle, Niese aimed to ration his pitches enough to save a taxed bullpen. He did so with aplomb, needing just 82 pitches to complete seven innings and 91 to finish eight. Niese easily could have gone longer had Ruben Tejada not been caught stealing to end the eighth inning, ensuring that the pitcher's spot would come up in the ninth. Collins pinch-hit Bobby Abreu for Niese, seeking an offensive spark that might end things quickly.
Otherwise, Collins said, Niese would have pitched nine, maybe even 10 innings. The only damage against the left-hander came on Ryan Howard's two-run homer in the fourth.
"I wanted them to put it in play," Niese said. "I threw a lot more fastballs today. I really wasn't trying to trick guys out there. I wanted them to make early contact, and they did."
"He's the guy that, if I had to pick somebody to pitch today, he'd be it," Collins said before the game. "He knows how to go about different things, especially against this lineup. He's pitched against them enough to know exactly what to do."
New York's only problem was the same one that plagued the Mets all weekend: They couldn't score, either, despite putting their first two men on base in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Those rallies resulted in a total of two runs -- and might have produced less, had Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins not committed a critical fielding error in the sixth.
With his team also in dire need of innings, Phillies starter Cole Hamels was impressive but inefficient, needing 125 pitches to complete seven innings. Hamels put the Phillies in slightly more of a predicament than the Mets, who waited until the ninth to dip into their bullpen.
Fatigue was on their minds all afternoon. After a quick night's nap, Collins returned to the ballpark Sunday morning carrying the aftereffects of 28 long innings in tow. Collins quipped that he wrote out four different lineup cards, uncertain of how many capable bodies were at his disposal after playing consecutive 14-inning games against the Phillies.
"Physically, I'm sure these guys are kind of run down right now," Niese said. "It's one of those things where you've got to get up and you've got to keep grinding it out. You've just got to stay mentally tough, [which] is the biggest thing."
That's critical for the Mets, who are in the middle of a 20-game stretch without an off-day. They are four games into a five-game series in Philadelphia, with three-game sets looming this week in Chicago and San Francisco.
"Lots of baseball," was how reliever Vic Black put it. "And we've got one more tomorrow."