NEW YORK -- It was only after Yoenis Cespedes hurled himself horizontally into the stands, Jim Henderson loaded an unprecedented pitch count onto his twice-surgically repaired shoulder, David Wright eschewed an off-day for his balky back and Jeurys Familia dragged them all to the 27th out that the Mets admitted what was obvious to anyone at Citi Field on Wednesday: Their 2-1 win over the Marlins was non-negotiable. Forget the clichés. Forget patience, even; this was a must-win.
Welcome to the eighth game of a 162-game season.
Terry Collins was the first to speak freely about it afterward, confessing a brand of hypersensitivity that Major League managers almost never reveal. Collins said he had heard the cries on talk radio. He had heard the Joes from Brooklyn and the Susies from Queens. He had read the columns suggesting that his Mets, with a 2-5 record heading into the day, were not playing with the proper desire. He acknowledged the sway of an aggressive media group that his general manager, Sandy Alderson, once referred to as "Panic City."
"We had to send a message to leave this homestand, our opening homestand, that we can win some games," Collins said. "I'm not deaf. And I'm not blind. I listen. I see how people are reacting. I hear what's going on. I read between the lines of what's being said. And I want you to understand something: This team is as dedicated this year as it was last year."
Desperate to prove it, Collins did the one tangible thing he could, managing as if it were Game 5 of the World Series all over again.
That is how Henderson found himself pitching in the seventh inning of a scoreless game, after spot starter Logan Verrett gave the Mets six innings. For the first time in a big league game since shoulder surgery nearly ended his career -- and roughly 18 hours after he threw 34 pitches in a loss to Dee Gordon and the Marlins -- Henderson pitched on consecutive days. The effects were immediately apparent, even if Henderson said he felt fine. His fastballs, which had averaged over 95 mph as recently as Tuesday, left his hand approximately five ticks slower.
The Mets survived that thanks mostly to Hansel Robles, who struck out consecutive batters after Henderson loaded the bases with no outs. But an inning later, when Jerry Blevins put one runner on base in a two-run game, Collins again stretched his usual limits by calling on Familia for a five-out save.
Under normal circumstances, this would be unorthodox. In Wednesday's game that Collins "had to have," it seemed borderline reckless. Familia, who threw a career-high 92 2/3 innings last year, had pitched in each of the Mets' past two games and three of their past four. And he had done all of it while battling an illness that was still affecting him Wednesday.
Despite that, Collins turned to Familia, who allowed two hits and an inherited run to score but otherwise completed the job. Kevin Plawecki's two-run single in the seventh held up, sending 22,113 fans home happy.
The lingering question afterward was at what cost. Throughout their 2-5 start, the Mets preached patience, particularly regarding an offense that has yet to fire on the proper cylinders. Collins himself belabored the point that there are 162 games in a long, long season.
Then he turned his back on all of that in Wednesday's postgame soliloquy.
"I'm worried about the perception that there's no energy here, which is completely not true -- that we're not prepared, that we're overconfident or we're not taking things seriously." Collins said. "I heard that [Tuesday] night and it made me sick to my stomach, that people actually think that this team, that accomplished what they did last year, would have any semblance of that makeup. So I said, 'You know what? We've got to win this game today. We've got to show people we mean business here.'"
Whether Wednesday affects the Mets going forward remains to be seen. Already, warning signs exist. Henderson's velocity is down significantly. Cespedes' knees and elbow are sore after flying into the stands in a fruitless attempt to catch a foul ball. Familia now ranks among the game's most-used relievers.
Every action has a price. Just 4.9 percent through their season, the Mets were desperate enough to begin finding out how much theirs might cost.
"We just wanted to win today," Collins said. "I just worry about winning games."