PHILADELPHIA -- With the final strike nestled in Ronny Paulino's catcher's mitt, Mets reliever Taylor Buchholz spread his arms wide, let out a yelp and slapped his glove with his left hand. Encapsulated within that display was the emotion from nearly five hours of baseball, on a night that most in attendance won't remember for the game.
Consider Pedro Beato, for example. His three scoreless innings in a 2-1, 14-inning victory over the Phillies paled in comparison to the sensation that rippled up his spine upon hearing the news of Osama bin Laden's death. Beato was 14 years old when the World Trade Center fell, sneaking to the roof of his Brooklyn high school to watch plumes of smoke rise into the air. The Mets won a dramatic game on Mike Piazza's homer 10 days later at Shea Stadium, New York City's first professional game following the attacks.
Never did Beato imagine that he would star in another patriotically charged game alongside Buchholz and Chris Young and Paulino, whose five hits and game-winning double became something of an afterthought.
"This is a good win for us and obviously a huge win for America tonight," Mets manager Terry Collins said afterward, still in uniform.
Collins was in the visiting dugout, trying to salvage one game from the Phillies, when bench coach Ken Oberkfell relayed the news. And suddenly it didn't seem so important that Young had just completed seven stellar innings, that Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak later blew a one-run lead, that it took 14 innings to eke out the victory they hoped to finish hours before.
Young was in the clubhouse, performing routine maintenance on his right arm when he heard the report on a nearby television. His thoughts shifted from his own no-decision to the firehouse near his home on the Upper East Side, where several service men died on Sept. 11, 2001.
Beato was in the bullpen preparing to pitch, his mind in two places at once.
They all heard the chanting of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" at Citizens Bank Park, and they all eventually understood. Some of the Mets hail from California, Florida, Canada, Puerto Rico. But from April through September, they are all New Yorkers, infusing Sunday's victory with a different perspective.
"It did jar me," Collins said. "You almost want to stop the game. You almost want to just stop the game and have that girl come and sing another beautiful rendition of 'God Bless America.'
Instead, the Mets kept on playing and kept on playing and kept on playing, unable to budge the Phillies until the 14th inning. After David Wright led off the inning with a single and Jason Bay added a base hit of his own, Paulino -- already with four hits in his first game at catcher -- doubled off Kyle Kendrick to push across the eventual winning run. Buchholz, who entered in the 13th, retired the Phillies in order in the bottom of the inning to preserve the win.
And the thousands still in attendance filed out of Citizens Bank Park, some still chanting.
If this is what it takes to spark a season, the Mets will take it.
Riding the high of a six-game winning streak late last month, the Mets waltzed into Philadelphia this weekend and stalled. They lost here Friday to a rookie making a spot start. They lost Saturday after Roy Halladay afforded them an unexpected opportunity to win. And they seemed destined to lose here once again Sunday, after their bullpen spoiled Young's strong start opposite Phillies starter Cliff Lee, who ceded nothing more than Carlos Beltran's RBI double in the fifth.
The Mets needed a victory in the worst way but seemed utterly unable to grab it. Paulino did his part, rapping out hit after hit after spending nearly a month on the disabled list with two different ailments. Young added plenty of pitching. But the rest of the Mets were listless against Lee and Philadelphia's bullpen, unable to strike back after Ryan Howard knocked in the game-tying run with a single off Byrdak in the eighth.
Then Paulino struck for the fifth time and the Mets held steady.
Afterward, they were more emotionally charged than at any point in April, breaking out in chants and laughter when food arrived in the visiting clubhouse. Collins spoke of what it all meant to him personally. Wright talked of the veterans he met last week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Beato and others offered their own recollections of history.
The Mets felt insignificant and important all at once, irrelevant and proud.
"This is a baseball game," Collins said. "It's important to us, obviously."
Or, as Young put it, "It's probably a night I'll never forget."