NEW YORK -- Ruben Tejada entered Tuesday's play struggling mightily, batting .199 and looking the part. But the Mets were still enamored with their young second baseman and, as Brewers starter Randy Wolf said, "He has that uniform for a reason."
Now they know the reason.
Among Tejada's three hits Tuesday was a walk-off, two-run double off hard-throwing Brewers closer John Axford, sending the Mets to a 4-3 victory over the Brewers.
"I was looking for my fastball," Tejada said, "and I hit it."
He crushed it, in fact, as much as the generously-listed 162-pound rookie has crushed any ball all season. With runners on the corners and one out, Tejada, sitting first-pitch fastball, smoked a 93-mile-per-hour Axford heater into the left-center-field gap, plating both Ike Davis and Luis Castillo and prompting a celebration on the field.
The Mets, who haven't had much to celebrate this season, will take it.
"The more and more he plays, it seems like the better and better he's getting," Mets starter Mike Pelfrey said. "He's made some adjustments up there, and they're paying off for him."
Facing Axford, who entered Tuesday's play nine-for-nine in save attempts of more than one inning, Davis sparked the final rally with a booming double into the right-center-field gap. After Nick Evans struck out, Josh Thole moved Davis to third with a bloop single into shallow left field.
With Castillo pinch-running for Thole, Tejada then sent the first pitch sailing clear over center fielder Lorenzo Cain's head, ending things abruptly.
"I got beat by leaving fastballs up," Axford said. "They did a good job of taking care of the mistakes that I made. No fault to anyone but myself right there."
With three hits, including two doubles, Tejada raised his average from .199 to .210, giving the Mets more reason to believe he could be their starting second baseman next season.
"We always felt that Ruben had a good swing," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "It was a matter of him getting some hits to fall for him."
Little fell over the first eight innings for the Mets, who touched Wolf for two runs on David Wright's homer in the sixth but otherwise went quietly. It was Pelfrey who was in line for the loss after eight, giving up three runs -- including Corey Hart's solo homer in the sixth, the first home run by a right-hander off him all season -- over 7 1/3 innings.
Otherwise, Pelfrey pitched well, walking four batters but inducing 13 groundouts to remain largely out of trouble.
"Pelfrey was very good," Manuel said. "He pitched very well the entire night."
But after Pelfrey served up a leadoff double to Joe Inglett in the eighth, the Mets turned to Pedro Feliciano, who was making his franchise-record 89th appearance, with one out. But he gave up Prince Fielder's go-ahead RBI groundout.
The Mets, then, were tasked with winning their first game of the season when trailing after eight innings. And so they did, ensuring that they will at least have a chance to finish this season at .500 or better. Of their six remaining games, including three against the Brewers and three against the last-place Nationals, the Mets must win four to finish with an even record.
"We want to finish strong and play well," Pelfrey said. "I think the biggest thing is that we've never given up. We've gone out there and played hard every day, and tried to win no matter where we are in the standings. As long as that continues, I think we're going to be OK."
Despite Tejada's walk-off hit, the Mets could not celebrate for too long on this night, knowing that Carlos Beltran departed after five innings with right knee discomfort. But the Mets left Citi Field nonetheless pleased with the progress of the 20-year-old Tejada, who seemed overmatched for much of his rookie season.
Now, the Mets know that Tejada can play at this level. The uniform fits.
And, more importantly, Tejada knows it too.
"That moment is a good experience for me," Tejada said. "The first time in my life."