NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey and David Wright will fly to Kansas City next week, one Mets All-Star grabbing more attention than the other. And for good reason. One comes with a made-for-TV storyline, a best-selling autobiography, a starring role in a documentary and all the requisite media buzz that channels forth from that.
The other simply hits, garnering no more or less celebrity than he had to start the season. But Thursday, on a rare night when Dickey struggled, Wright did his best to remind the Mets that he remains the spine of this team in a 6-5 walk-off victory.
The third baseman capped a disciplined rally against one of Philadelphia's own All-Stars, closer Jonathan Papelbon, with a game-winning single in the ninth, then walked off to "M-V-P!" chants from many of the same 28,409 fans who came to the park more interested in Dickey.
"Baseball's just a fantastic game," the knuckleballer said. "The storyline goes from 'Dickey stinks' to 'Wright's the best.'"
With the Mets down a run heading into the ninth, Ike Davis greeted Papelbon with a double before subbing out for pinch-runner Ronny Cedeno, who moved to third on Josh Thole's sacrifice bunt. Then Cedeno stayed there as, one by one, the Mets grinded out disciplined at-bats. After Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out, rookie Jordany Valdespin -- known in the Minors for his sometimes immature approach at the plate -- worked the count full. On a 3-2 pitch, Papelbon hit him.
The next batter, Ruben Tejada, produced perhaps the game's finest plate appearance, fouling off two tough pitches before taking a 96-mph fastball just off the outer edge of the strike zone for ball four.
"I have to protect the strike zone in that situation," Tejada said.
That brought up Daniel Murphy, who fouled off another two pitches before drilling a comebacker to the mound, which Papelbon kicked toward the foul line after it deflected off his glove. Murphy reached base safely, Cedeno raced home with the tying run and on the next pitch, Wright sent "a little half-wedge" into right field for the game-winner.
"I had the worst at-bat out of everybody in that inning," Wright said. "More lucky than anything, but I was glad to get the opportunity because the guys in front of me had some incredible at-bats."
"Bloop hit to right, David fights it off," Papelbon said. "Sometimes you can't do really much about it."
The Mets will take it, considering how ardently manager Terry Collins stressed earlier in the day that the Mets "[had] to have this game." With Dickey on the mound and a loss in their rearview, the Mets had no desire to scuffle into the All-Star break. So it was with uplifted spirits that they watched their ace -- none of them are shy about calling him that now -- take the mound Thursday.
But Dickey struggled, walking the first batter of the game, hitting another and allowing his first earned run in the first inning this season. Then Dickey gave up another in the second inning. And another in the third. And two more in the sixth, struggling to control what he called a "stinky" knuckleball.
"I didn't deserve to get a no-decision," Dickey said. "I deserved to lose the game tonight. And the guys, they were just phenomenal."
Facing yet another All-Star in Phillies starter Cole Hamels, the Mets relied on their two most productive right-handed sluggers, Wright and Scott Hairston, to keep them close early. After Hairston boomed his 12th home run -- nine have come against lefties -- over the left-field fence in the second inning, Wright gave the Mets their first lead with his two-run homer in the fifth. The third baseman finished 3-for-5 with four RBIs, also singling home a run in the third.
But it was Wright's ninth-inning hit, the weakest of them all, that lifted the Mets. As the winning rally unfolded, most of Citi Field's fans stood in front of their seats, mimicking the Mets perched at the top step of the dugout.
"I think deep down inside, we knew somebody was going to come through," Hairston said. "Once that inning started, it just didn't feel like we were going to lose the game."
Added Collins: "There were a lot of bright spots in this game."
Lest a damp towel spoil their mood, there were also some deficiencies. Collectively, the Mets continued to struggle versus left-handed pitchers, with their five starting lefty position players going 2-for-17 against Hamels and Antonio Bastardo. Right fielder Lucas Duda continued to stumble on defense, allowing a key run to score when he misplayed Jimmy Rollins' sixth-inning hit into a triple. And the Mets continued to sweat out their bullpen, needing Hairston to gun down Mike Fontenot at the plate to prevent an insurance run from scoring in the eighth.
General manager Sandy Alderson plans to address some, if not all, of those shortcomings before this month's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Until then, the Mets will simply proceed with the roster that they have, rising and falling in large part with the play of their All-Stars.
"It's one closer to the playoffs," was how Murphy summed the victory. "And that's what we're here for."