Using a revamped motion, Heilman struck out three in two innings to close out Oliver Perez's dominant performance and give New York a 3-0 victory over their division-rival Florida Marlins on Friday night.
"Hopefully he could be our guy," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Heilman as go-to guy in a bullpen that came in with just one save by a pitcher other than injured closer Billy Wagner.
Perez pitched seven innings of two-hit ball and David Wright followed his game-winning homer on Thursday -- bailing out the bullpen, which blew Johan Santana's lead -- with a two-run shot in the first off Ricky Nolasco, helping the Mets win consecutive games for the first time since taking three in a row July 23-25. Carlos Delgado also connected as New York moved a half-game ahead of Florida for second in the NL East and a game back of the Phillies, who lost 2-0 to Pittsburgh in 12 innings.
The Mets also got some big news after the win, when outfielder Ryan Church said he was "cleared to go ahead and make steps to" return to the team from his second concussion of the season, which has kept him sidelined since July 6.
Symptom-free, Church will go to the Mets' minor league complex in St. Lucie, Fla., where he will begin baseball activities. No timetable has been set, but he hopes to serve as the designated hitter in the next couple of days.
The Marlins, coming off a series win in Philadelphia, have not homered in four straight games for the first time this season. Wes Helms' double in the second and Cody Ross' two-base hit in the seventh were the Marlins' only hits off Perez.
"(Perez) was as good as I've ever seen him," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Velocity. Life on the fastball. He was good."
Moved up a day in the rotation because John Maine is on the disabled list, Perez (8-7) improved to 3-0 against the Mets' low-budget rival this season. He was in trouble just once, loading the bases in the second on a pair of walks around a strikeout and Helms' hit. But he worked out of that jam when John Baker hit a meek liner that third baseman Wright let drop in front of him for a force at home, followed by a strikeout of Nolasco.
"Once he got out of that jam it affected the rest of the night," Helms said. "He did a good job coming back at us and pitching seven strong innings. We didn't do much to him."
The Marlins then went down in order until the sixth, after a leadoff walk to Hanley Ramirez. Perez rebounded by retiring the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 batters, pouncing off the mound and making a swift spin and throw to nab Josh Willingham at first to end the inning.
Perez came out to start the seventh already having thrown 106 pitches, and used his 120th to get Baker to fly out to end the inning. He walked off the mound to an appreciative cheer from the Shea Stadium crowd and was pinch-hit for in the bottom half.
"He has resilient arm," Manuel said of the high count, second highest by a Mets pitcher this season. "He doesn't bother me as much as some of the other guys."
Perez struck out eight and walked three, and the Mets improved to 6-2 in his starts since beating the Yankees on June 29. He has a 1.71 ERA in those starts. Perez is also 7-0 in 13 starts against teams that are above .500 this season.
"I'm thinking every game is important for us," Perez said of his success against winning teams. "When I pitch I try to think the other team is the best in baseball."
Heilman entered in the eighth to boos, but he quickly turned the crowd around by pitching a perfect inning with a new rotation that he has been working on with pitching coach Dan Warthen since the series in Houston.
Heilman is squaring his foot up against the rubber now which gives him better downward spin on his pitches.
"I can feel the difference, see a little more life on the ball," Heilman said.
He struck out two of three batters in the ninth for his first save in three chances -- and first since Aug. 25, 2007, against the Dodgers.
When asked if he wants to be the closer until Wagner returns, Heilman said: If that's what it's going to be I'll take the ball."
Wright's homer off Nolasco (11-7) was his 22nd of the year and it came after Daniel Murphy singled in the first. Delgado returned to the lineup from a day off and hit his 24th homer, just clearing the fence in left-center, with one out in the fourth inning.
"We need to do a better job getting to the relievers with a good lead," Wright said, "give them a cushion."
Nolasco gave up three runs, seven hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings.
- Maine tested his strained right rotator cuff in a simulated game at Shea Stadium before batting practice. He threw 61 pitches, including breaking balls, and declared he is ready to start Wednesday, when he is due to come off the DL.
- RHP Brian Stokes will be called up from Triple-A New Orleans to start Saturday for the Mets.
- Marlins LHP Andrew Miller (patella tendinitis in right knee) is scheduled to make a rehab start Saturday for Class-A Jupiter.
- To make room for Stokes, the Mets will send RHP Ruddy Lugo back to New Orleans.