NEW YORK -- Sitting on eight shutout innings and 110 pitches, Dillon Gee gave it his best crack. He wanted to pitch the ninth. He asked manager Terry Collins. The answer was no.
And so ended Gee's best start of the season, an eight-inning blanking of the Marlins in a 4-0 victory on Sunday at Citi Field. It was enough. Gee is slowly earning back his manager's trust while reclaiming his status as one of the steadiest pitchers in baseball.
"He got us to where we wanted to get to," Collins said, "That was pretty much the end."
Gee did more than that, allowing only three hits in the longest outing by any Mets pitcher this season. On a day -- like most days -- when the Mets needed a bullpen breather, Gee felt stronger in the eighth than he did earlier in the game.
It was apt, then, that he struck out two of the final three batters he faced, breezing through his final inning after struggling through the previous two. He walked a pair of batters in the sixth and allowed singles to the first two men he faced in the seventh, but he generated double plays to escape both of those jams unscathed. He finished with six strikeouts and four walks, lowering his ERA to 2.88 while winning at Citi Field for the first time since August.
Yet those numbers tell only a fraction of the story. Over his last three starts, Gee is 2-1 with a 0.86 ERA, recovering from some early season hiccups much quicker than he did a year ago.
"It was one of those good days," Gee said. "I just try to go out there each time it's my turn and do the best I can and get as deep as I can, and give us a chance to win. … As long as we win at the end of the day, I'm a happy guy."
Two external factors worked to Gee's advantage on Sunday. First, the Mets played standout defense behind him, with Daniel Murphy and David Wright robbing hits from the Marlins in the first and fourth innings, respectively. Wright's play in particular drew rave reviews from his teammates, who watched him range into foul territory and make a sliding over-the-shoulder basket catch near the fence.
Second, Gee pitched much of the day with a comfortable cushion. After Lucas Duda doubled home the Mets' first run in the second inning, Wright added an RBI double in the fifth. Chris Young followed with a two-run homer off New York native Tom Koehler, who needed 109 pitches -- one fewer than Gee -- to complete five innings.
"Gee was on his game, and he was throwing strikes with his two-seamer and wasn't letting up," Marlins first baseman Garrett Jones said. "We just couldn't get the ball rolling."
Sensing the game was still in doubt, Collins warmed up workhorse relievers Scott Rice and Carlos Torres in the ninth, and used Torres to close out the game. Those were outs that Gee would have liked to have recorded, though he understood the decision.
Earlier this season, Gee pitched well against the Nationals, Reds and Angels, only to allow critical middle-innings runs in all three games. That dented Collins' trust in him just a bit, prompting early hooks in his next two outings.
Sunday's hook was not early by any means, considering that Gee had not exceeded 110 pitches in an outing in nearly two years. But it was nonetheless an opportunity that later in the summer he may have received.
"That is my only goal every time I take the mound -- to try to go as deep as I can in the game and give us a chance to win," Gee said. "I'm happy when that happens, and we won today, so I'm happy."
The Mets have been happy more often than not this season, thanks in large part to a rotation that, if anything, has exceeded its lofty expectations. Mets starters posted a 2.49 ERA during this 10-game homestand, winning six times despite an offense that hit .200 and averaged 3.2 runs per game.
Next up is a two-game series in Philadelphia, followed by four games in Colorado and three in Miami. Given other context, those games might have seemed daunting to the Mets, but so far this season, this is a different team.
"The only way to become confident is to get some wins under your belt," Wright said. "It's impossible to beat your chest and walk with a little pep in your step when you're not winning. But when you get a few series wins under your belt, you beat some good teams, you start taking care of business at home, you kind of gain that confidence. And I think that shows on the field.
"Instead of hoping we're going to win, we expect to."