WASHINGTON -- The New York Mets gathered in the infield for fist bumps and high-fives Wednesday night, and while they had celebrated 83 previous victories this season, No. 84 somehow seemed so important.
Beating the Washington Nationals 8-4 behind Mike Pelfrey's good-enough start, David Wright's three RBI and a hobbled Moises Alou's three hits not only ended New York's five-game losing streak, it allowed the NL East leaders to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Remember: It had been a full week since the Mets added to their "W" column, and they entered the day only 1½ games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies -- New York's smallest division margin since mid-July.
"It's a big win for us. It's a win when we needed one," said Wright, who topped 100 RBI for the third consecutive season. "It seemed like everything clicked for us."
About an hour later, the Mets got more good news: The Phillies lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 in 10 innings, bumping New York's lead back to 2½ games.
The Mets have not been pitching well, allowing the Nationals -- the lowest-scoring offense in the majors -- to score 21 runs in the series' first two games.
But Pelfrey (3-7) allowed three runs in five-plus innings to win his third consecutive decision, and the bullpen finally came through, with Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman combining for three shutout innings before Billy Wagner gave up an unearned run in the ninth.
"It's critical when everyone comes in and shuts them down," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
It began with Sosa entering with runners on first and third and no outs in the sixth inning.
"A real important part of the game," Sosa said through a translator. "I didn't want to make a mistake."
He most certainly did not.
First, Sosa struck out pinch-hitter D'Angelo Jimenez, who came in hitting .538 with two doubles and two home runs in his past four games.
Then, Sosa got Nook Logan to ground into a first-pitch double play.
Simple as that, threat averted, 5-3 lead preserved. The Mets would tack on three runs in the seventh.
"Sosa won the game for them," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "Tremendous job."
The same could be said of Wright or Alou.
The 41-year-old Alou left the game Tuesday with a left quadriceps injury and was a game-time decision Wednesday. Indeed, he said he wouldn't have played had the Mets not been in such a tight playoff race.
All he did was leg out a double plus two singles, score twice and drive in a run before leaving for a pinch-runner in the seventh.
"I was a little concerned," said Alou, whose 23-game hitting streak is the NL's longest this season. "But after I ran the first time, I felt good."
No one in the visiting clubhouse was surprised -- that he played or that he played so well.
"That's Moises. He's a gamer," Randolph said. "He understands his responsibility to the team."
There were plenty of Mets fans in the announced crowd of 20,558, and they understand Wright's role, too, greeting his plate appearances with "M-V-P!" chants. He drove in runs with a single in the third, a sacrifice fly in the fifth and a double in the seventh. That last hit, on a liner to right, might have been a single, but Wright stretched it into a double, sliding around the tag at second.
Not all was perfect about this performance, though, with Wright making one of New York's three errors -- giving the team 13 in its past four games.
And the Mets managed to get outhit by the Nationals, 12-11.
Still, the winners certainly will take the end result.
"Any time you can get a win," Randolph said, "hopefully it gets you going back in the right direction."
Like Alou, Paul Lo Duca departed the game early, although not before delivering two runs with sacrifice flies. Lo Duca was called out on strikes in the eighth but argued he had been hit on the arm by the final pitch of the at-bat and threw his helmet into the dugout when he left the field. He came out for the bottom of the inning, but left before a pitch was thrown, replaced by Mike DiFelice.
It was Lo Duca who, before the game, sat at his locker and spoke about wanting to "see what we're made of."
On Tuesday, the Mets held a players-only meeting, then went out and lost a second straight game to the fourth-place Nationals.
"You can talk all you want. And you can say all you want. You can have every cliche in the book or whatever, but it just matters that you've got to get 27 outs, and you've got to win the ballgame," Lo Duca said. "I don't care how you do it."
- Pelfrey went from July 19, 2006, to Aug. 31 this year without a single major league victory -- starting this season 0-7 -- and now he has three in September.
- After striking out three times in his previous eight games, Logan matched that total in his first three at-bats.