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CHC@NYM: Nieuwenhuis clubs a walk-off three-run homer

NEW YORK -- Minutes after the Mets lost Saturday's game to the Cubs, a mistake-laden affair, David Wright called a players-only meeting in the middle of the clubhouse. Veterans John Buck and LaTroy Hawkins took turns speaking. Wright addressed a list of shortcomings that he could no longer ignore.

"I really hate team meetings," Wright said. "They're one of my least-favorite things, because it usually means that things aren't going so well. But there's times where it's good to get together and get some things off of my chest."

A day later, Wright joked that he simply told his teammates to save their offense for the ninth inning of games, propelling themselves to victory with walk-off homers. Which is precisely what the Mets did Sunday, stealing a 4-3 game from the Cubs on Kirk Nieuwenhuis' three-run shot off closer Carlos Marmol.

"That's what the message was," Wright said, laughing. "And they listened pretty well."

Any immediate effect from Wright's meeting was lost early Sunday, when the Mets seemed destined to tumble to another awkward loss. Their primary undressing came in the fifth inning, when their infielders made three errant throws and committed two errors on a single play, resulting in two unearned runs and a three-run Cubs lead.

All the while, their offense remained listless until the ninth, when Marlon Byrd greeted Marmol with a solo homer to the second deck in left. Just as manager Terry Collins had seen the Mets deflate before his eyes during a late Cubs rally one day earlier, at that moment he watched them visibly gain energy. One player called out that the Mets would win the game. Collins, whose dad had asked him for a Father's Day victory earlier in the morning, liked what he heard.

After the next batter, Lucas Duda, walked, John Buck singled to put the tying runs on base. Two batters later, Nieuwenhuis stepped to the plate and took a slider for a ball, before cracking a 94-mph fastball off the facing of the Pepsi Porch in right -- a pitch that even Marmol admitted was "up" and "right down the middle."

"I can't really describe the feeling," said the recently recalled Nieuwenhuis, who made a concerted effort in the Minors to swing at more fastballs early in counts. "It was great."

And with that, an almost audible sigh rushed out of Citi Field. The Mets had been in danger of losing for the 11th time in 13 games, wasting another adequate starting pitching performance from Jeremy Hefner, and doing nothing to dispel the notion that they are something less than big league-caliber. In Saturday's loss, they committed a bizarre throwing error, botched two potential double plays and one would-be triple play, all while scoring fewer than five runs for the 25th consecutive home game.

They were turning into the sort of punch line that Letterman or Leno might have seized. And they only furthered that reputation in the fifth inning Sunday, when Alfonso Soriano hit a hot grounder toward third base with two men aboard.

Diving to his left to field it, Wright hopped to his feet but threw over the head of first baseman Daniel Murphy, who retrieved the ball and made an errant throw home. Omar Quintanilla then raced over from shortstop, throwing off-line himself before the play mercifully came to an end. On that sequence alone, the Cubs scored two of their three runs against Hefner.

"I know what would have been said, would have been written [had we lost]," Collins said. "And you know what? That's what should have been written, to be honest. That's what happened. But now we'll get on the plane with smiles on our faces."

Looking back, the Mets really only did one thing right on Sunday -- they took advantage of a shaky closer at a time when they needed to. The same issues that have plagued them for weeks have not disappeared.

But the Mets feel more confident now thanks to their late rally, thanks to inspiration from Wright and Buck and Hawkins, and thanks to the impending presence of hotshot prospect Zack Wheeler. As Collins put it, "if we can't use this as a spark, I don't know what else we can do."

"We needed something," added Byrd.

So here it is: a spark for all to see. Maybe the Mets will not take advantage of it. Maybe they will. All Wright wanted to do, in calling his meeting, was ensure that his teammates at least have a chance.

"I had to get off my chest some things that I've seen," Wright said. "It wasn't calling anybody out or anything like that. It was just some things that I think we can clean up, and some things that I think we can do better."

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