Nieuwenhuis plays the hero

NEW YORK -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis knew it as soon as he hit it.

It was gone. A no-doubter.

Just like that, the New York Mets erased eight innings of awful baseball and avoided a sweep.

Nieuwenhuis clubbed his first career walk-off home run -- a three-run shot off the face of the second deck in right field -- and the Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, on Sunday at Citi Field.

“I can’t really describe it. It was great. It was my first walk-off home run in the big leagues, so it was a lot of fun,” said Nieuwenhuis, who connected for his first major league homer since June 23, 2012 against the New York Yankees.

It was his second career walk-off hit; he also had a walk-off RBI single against the Miami Marlins on April 26, 2012.

The last time the Mets trailed by three or more runs in the ninth or later and won was Sept. 22, 2011 in St. Louis.

“You gotta play nine innings. You gotta play 27 outs,” manager Terry Collins said.

The Mets (25-39) were in danger of finishing a homestand 1-7 and losing their fourth game in a row. But Cubs manager Dale Sveum couldn’t turn to closer Kevin Gregg (0.83 ERA) because he had pitched in four games in a row. Instead, he went to setup man Carlos Marmol (6.08 ERA).

How fortunate.

Marlon Byrd greeted Marmol in the ninth by blasting his 11th homer of the season.

“When Marlon hit the home run, there’s a huge bolt of energy through the bench,” Collins said. “And then when Lucas (Duda) walked, there were guys saying, ‘We’re gonna win the game.' Sure enough, it was true.”

John Buck moved Duda over to second with a single to right, and Omar Quintanilla advanced both Buck and Duda into scoring position with a well-placed sacrifice bunt.

That brought up Nieuwenhuis, who sent the remnants of an announced crowd of 30,256 home happy by blasting a 1-0 94 mph fastball from Marmol 400 feet. Nieuwenhuis jumped on top of home plate, and was later hit with some apple pie during a postgame on-field interview.

Going into the ninth the Mets had just three hits, and had committed two errors on the same play which resulted in two runs scoring in the fifth. Another solid outing by Jeremy Hefner (five innings, one earned run) was about to go to waste.

Things were really bad. And then, five batters later, they were really good.

“You bet your butt I (look at this as a big victory),” Collins said with a smile on his face. “You can’t keep looking backwards, you’ve got to try to look ahead and get better.”