The bases were loaded, the small crowd was on its feet screaming, and the New York Mets were getting a familiar, haunting feeling.
For a few moments, it looked like 2008 all over again.
Instead of folding, the Mets pulled off a great escape on Wednesday night, making Carlos Delgado's homer and four RBIs hold up for a 9-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that represented a clean break with their recent past.
“It wasn't pretty, it wasn't quick, but we got a win,” Delgado said. “You have to find a way to win. Good teams do that.”
The Mets couldn't do that last season. They failed to make the playoffs because of another September meltdown set up by their bullpen, which led the NL with 16 blown saves after the All-Star break. They acquired closers J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez in the offseason, and felt awfully good when the two of them closed out a 2-1 win in the season opener.
That one came on a raw, 37-degree afternoon that made it tough on the hitters. With temperatures in the 50s on a clear evening Wednesday, the offenses got going and the Mets found themselves sweating one out in the ninth.
Cincinnati loaded the bases with one out on a pair of walks and Delgado's error at first base. Rodriguez, who saved a record 62 games for the Angels last season, struck out Alex Gonzalez on a full-count fastball, then got Laynce Nix to fly out to the warning track in center field to end it.
Manager Jerry Manuel smiled about this close call, thinking back to all those times it didn't end so well last year.
“I ain't going through that anymore,” he said. “I aged about 12 years last year.”
Delgado hit a two-run homer in the first off Edinson Volquez (0-1), who had problems throwing strikes. The first baseman also drove in a run with a groundout, and singled home another during a four-run seventh inning that made it 9-4.
Brian Schneider's three-run double _ the hit skipped past stumbling right fielder Jay Bruce _ completed the seventh-inning rally and left the outcome in the hands of a bullpen that was nearly perfect in the opener.
This time, there were meltdown memories all around.
Starter Mike Pelfrey (1-0) left after five innings with a 5-4 lead. The Reds scored twice in the seventh off Pedro Feliciano, and made one final push against the Mets' closer tandem. Putz gave up a sacrifice fly by Chris Dickerson in the eighth, cutting it to 9-7, and Rodriguez improved to 2-for-2 in save chances with New York by getting that final flyout.
When the ball left the bat, Manuel thought it might be out of the park. His new closer wasn't so worried.
“That ball sounded like he hit it at the end of the bat,” Rodriguez said. “I heard the sound. You know when a ball's going to leave the park.”
Joey Votto had three hits for the Reds, including a three-run homer in the first off Pelfrey.
Gary Sheffield worked in the outfield before the game, getting ready to play eventually. Sheffield, who was Detroit's DH, was released last week and signed a one-year deal with the Mets. Manager Jerry Manuel said he could play as soon as this weekend. “We're just trying to get him into outfield shape more than anything else,” Manuel said.
Sheffield, who has 499 career homers, is available to pinch hit. He has one career pinch-hit homer, off former Reds reliever Jeff Brantley on July 20, 1994, in Cincinnati.