NEW YORK -- Roles were reversed Tuesday night at Citi Field. The Phillies were the ones struggling to do anything right, pitching themselves into an early hole and never coming close to escaping. The Mets were the ones doing the whipping. In front of the largest crowd in Citi Field history, at the exact midpoint of their season, the Mets made a rather loud statement regarding the new hierarchy of the National League East.
Their 11-1 victory over the Phillies combined the strong starting pitching to which they have grown accustomed, an offensive outburst that is becoming more common for them and the type of defensive prowess they have rarely shown this season. The total package was one of their most complete wins of the season, over a rival that has tormented them endlessly in recent seasons.
"It's quiet," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of the mood in his dugout. "It wasn't at the start of the game. We definitely had enough life. I guess the Mets just knocked the life out of us."
Starting pitcher Jon Niese was the steadying force through it all, holding the Phillies to one run -- a Carlos Ruiz solo home run in the second -- over eight innings. After giving up that shot, Niese set down 10 of the next 11 batters he faced before pitching around baserunners in the later innings. He allowed a total of three hits.
Along the way, he received plenty of help. David Wright's diving stop of Shane Victorino's grounder in the fifth inning, Ruben Tejada's leaping grab of Hunter Pence's line drive in the fourth inning and Daniel Murphy's snare of Pence's liner in the second were just some of the strong plays the Mets made behind Niese, one game after they committed three errors in Sunday's loss to the Dodgers.
"You've got to have it," manager Terry Collins said of the defense. "Every once in a while you're going to make mistakes. You've just got to keep them limited and don't let them hurt you."
Wright put the game completely out of reach with his three-run homer in the sixth inning, marking the franchise-record ninth consecutive season he has hit at least 10 home runs, and passing Howard Johnson for sole possession of third place on the club's all-time list.
But he was hardly alone -- only Ike Davis did not record at least one hit for the Mets, who pounded Phillies starter Vance Worley for six runs in four innings. Tejada and Murphy provided the spark at the top of the order, combining for seven hits, three runs and five RBIs (four from Murphy). Thanks to a John Mayberry-aided triple in the first inning, Murphy finished a home run short of the cycle.
Niese also helped himself with a two-run single in the second inning, reaching base twice and laying down a successful sacrifice bunt in his only other plate appearance.
Afterward, Worley called the Mets "aggressive." No one in the home clubhouse disagreed. But Murphy suggested that the team's camaraderie may be playing an even more significant role in their success.
"We care so much for each other," Murphy said. "We're sincerely pulling for the next guy. It's unique and it's a lot of fun."
Of course, midseason successes do not always portend full-season triumphs. The Mets were 41-40 through 81 games last season, 45-36 in 2010. Both years, they fell off sharply in the second half of the season amidst injuries, trades and inconsistencies.
But there is an extra Wild Card berth available this year, which gives the Mets better odds. General manager Sandy Alderson has already begun calling around to acquire bullpen help -- not sell it. And the Mets believe their rotation is finally strong enough to carry them for six full months.
"I knew we were good," Wright said. "There wasn't any question what we thought in this clubhouse about the talent that we had. We knew we had that raw talent. It was a matter of staying healthy and bringing that talent out. The biggest thing is we get more and more confident with each win."
Their own fans may be playing a role in that. Several Mets commented after the game on the record 42,516 fans who came to Citi Field on Tuesday -- partially the result of Fireworks Night, but also the byproduct of a surging club. As Wright rounded the bases after his home run, many of them began an "M-V-P!" chant that reverberated throughout the ballpark.
"We noticed the size of the crowd tonight," Collins said. "It helps the energy of the club to rise up. I just hope they saw a team they want to come back and watch."