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ATLANTA -- New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez suggested describing Sunday's 3-2 win against the Atlanta Braves as the most important victory of the season was overstating the importance, but K-Rod appeared in the minority in that regard -- even in his own clubhouse.
After Terry Collins used two starting pitchers in relief and his team snapped a seven-game losing streak, the first-year Mets manager concluded: "It's our biggest win so far, I can tell you that. We've got to get ourselves on a roll. We go home on a better note. Hopefully the guys can take a deep breath now and start playing the way they're capable of playing. We put a string together now, we'll make some noise."
Said Josh Thole: "We needed it bad today. That's the bottom line. It was a must-win for us. We had to get ourselves off the hook. We dropped -- what? -- seven in a row, I think. It was time. We've been in every ballgame. I say that's probably been the hardest thing about it is we have been so close -- one, two runs. But we have the lead and then we lose the lead. To have the lead and keep the lead and keep going, that was big momentum for us."
Collins managed in some regards like it was Game 7 of a postseason series.
Taking advantage of the fact that both Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey intended to throw between-starts bullpen sessions on Sunday anyway, Collins used both pitchers out of the bullpen. It marked the first time the Mets had used two starting pitchers in relief in a game since April 9, 1997, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That day, Rick Reed (five innings) and Brian Bohanon were used in a game that went 14 innings at Dodger Stadium.
Would Collins have done this had the Mets been on a seven-game winning streak?
Given that Dickey and Capuano both have extra rest between their starts -- in part because of Monday's off day -- and given the bullpen's overuse, Collins said he might have done so regardless of the team's record.
"I certainly might have," Collins said.
Still, who knows? And desperate times called for desperate measures. The Mets are carrying an eight-man 'pen.
Collins identified D.J. Carrasco, who made Saturday's Game 1 spot start, as unavailable Sunday, along with Pedro Beato. He also wanted to stay away from Bobby Parnell, who tossed two innings Saturday. But Collins easily could have used reliever Taylor Buchholz in the seventh inning instead of Dickey (who tossed a scoreless frame) before going to Jason Isringhausen and K-Rod to close out the victory.
Capuano, meanwhile, had relieved Dillon Gee in the sixth with Collins anticipating that Chipper Jones would pinch hit. Jones grounded into an inning-ending fielder's choice and Capuano stranded two runners inherited from Gee. Jones dropped to 1-for-8 lifetime against Capuano.
Still, Collins said he would not make a habit of using starting pitchers as relievers.
"I just think they might have needed a blow," Dickey said of the relief corps. "And I think that's where it ends. At least that's how I took it. It was my regular throw day anyway. I was happy to get an inning. If I'm going to get dressed up, I might as well play, you know? So it was fun."
Said Collins: "It was a huge game for us, I thought. We've used our bullpen to death. So we had those two guys available. Cappy has great numbers against Chipper. So I kind of felt no matter when we brought him in, that's who he was going to face. And R.A. does what he always does. He's such a different look. He's pitched out the bullpen. I wasn't worried about that."
One person affiliated with the team even said the Mets briefly considered starting Dickey on Sunday on two days' rest before committing to a Triple-A call-up.
As for avoiding -- or arguably slighting -- his relief corps, Collins promised they would be amply used.
"That's what they're down there for and they're going to have to do the job," Collins said about the bullpen.
Said K-Rod: "Always a little help is not going to hurt nobody. Our bullpen has been wore out too."
As for the victory, Dickey summed it up this way: "Any game at this point you don't want to be hyper-dramatic about. But, at the same time, there is a sense of urgency that we need to start turning it around. I was glad to be able to help with that. But, again, I don't think that was any comment on the people down there. I think it was an opportunity for Terry just to give them a blow."