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Must C Curious: Mets come up with wild walk-off win

NEW YORK -- The Mets were not prepared for this. Moments after Daniel Murphy capped the team's fourth consecutive season-opening victory with a walk-off single in the ninth, Justin Turner rummaged around the Citi Field clubhouse for an appropriate pie filling. He found only shaving cream.

"We don't have whipped cream yet," Turner said.

So it was with bloodshot eyes that Daniel Murphy recalled his hit -- and the defensive wizardry that preceded it -- in Monday's comeback, 4-3 victory over the Nationals. Half an inning after squelching a Washington rally with his diving stop of Ryan Zimmerman's would-be hit, Murphy brought a small-but-animated crowd to its feet with his game-winning hit into shallow right field.

That hit plated Mike Baxter, moments after the Nationals nearly caught him running through a late stop sign as he rounded third base. It was Baxter's leadoff walk that sparked the rally off Henry Rodriguez in the ninth, Ruben Tejada's sacrifice bunt that furthered it, Rodriguez's throwing error that lit it afire and Murphy's single that ultimately capped it.

When it was over, some three hours after they dove into a three-run hole, the Mets climbed into their cars and trucks holding the best record in the Major Leagues.

"It's nice to know we're not going to give in," Murphy said.

They certainly could have wilted, given Mike Pelfrey's erratic early command early and the Mets' sudden offensive struggles with runners on base. But Pelfrey, after giving up seven hits and three runs over the first three innings, settled down to allow nothing more through 5 2/3 and matched a career-high eight strikeouts.

All the while, the Mets were busy clawing back on David Wright's RBI single in the third inning and Kirk Nieuwenhuis' first career homer, a two-run shot off Nationals starter Edwin Jackson in the fifth. Shortly after, the bullpen tango began, with the Mets pitting their revamped crew against the Nationals' strong group of relievers.

This effort was not quite as clean as the preceding three, though it hardly seemed to matter. Miguel Batista bailed Pelfrey out of a jam in the sixth inning, before walking the first two batters of the seventh and needing Ramon Ramirez to douse that fire. Jon Rauch pitched a clean eighth, but walked the leadoff man in the ninth and gave up Zimmerman's two-out bouncer toward shallow center field.

That's when Murphy, a third baseman-turned-outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned-second baseman, dove to snare the ball before flipping to Tejada for the force.

"He did a nice job," said third-base coach Tim Teufel, who worked closely with Murphy on his defense this spring. "I expect some good things from him every time he goes out there."

Heading into the season, the Mets would have tended to agree with that statement in regards to Murphy's offense. Committing to Murphy after he ranked fifth in the National League in batting last summer at the time of his season-ending injury, the Mets considered his improvement on defense one of this year's most important projects.

They already knew that he could hit. So the Mets were somewhat unsurprised when Murphy came through with Monday's game-winner, even if he admitted afterward to "trying not to hyperventilate."

"I was trying to breathe," Murphy said. "I sent up a prayer right there -- not to necessarily do good, but just to take away the anxiety."

Anxiety levels had ratcheted throughout Citi Field moments earlier, when Mets manager Terry Collins instructed Tejada to bunt on a two-strike count. With Baxter leading off first base, Tejada squared up for what would have been a routine sacrifice, had Rodriguez not thrown the ball off-target to first.

In the ensuing confusion, Teufel waited until the last possible moment to halt Baxter, who was already well on his way toward home plate. Seeing Teufel's upraised arms, Baxter stopped short and fell down halfway between third base and home, scampering back to third just ahead of the relay throw.

"But it worked out well," Baxter said.

It could not, in fact, have worked out better for the Mets, who descended further down their rabbit hole with a fourth consecutive win. Not since 2007 have they opened a season with four straight victories; 1985 is the only year in which they have won their first five. And the Mets have done so this April against the Braves and Nationals, two teams almost universally picked to finish ahead of them in the NL East.

The Mets have done so despite an 0-for-15 start from Ike Davis and a 2-for-12 stumble from Jason Bay, their fourth and fifth hitters. Both Bay and Pelfrey received multiple rounds of boos during the middle innings of Monday's game.

And yet it was not Collins, but Nationals manager Davey Johnson lamenting after the game that "that was a tough one." There were no such utterances a few hundred feet down a Citi Field corridor, where Nieuwenhuis was reuniting with his parents on his mother's 50th birthday, Davis was joking about his marital status and Murphy was answering question after question about his glove, his bat and his taste for shaving cream.

Such are the spoils of an undefeated record, for a team with seemingly nothing to lose.

"I think we want to show our fans that what we say, maybe there's some truth to it," Collins said. "And that is, we're a better team than people give us credit for."

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