NEW YORK -- Jimmy Rollins looked at four words on the page. Brett Myers didn't even see it. Who knows whether the latest exchange of verbal warfare in the National League East will help determine this heated division race. But for one night, a Hall of Famer delivered a message that seemed to resonate, and his team responded.
Myers threw what his manager said was perhaps the best game he's seen him pitch, Greg Dobbs hit a two-run homer and the Phillies drew within two games of the division lead with a 3-0 win over the Mets on Friday night.
But it was an e-mail from former Phillie Mike Schmidt to manager Charlie Manuel that added another page to the rivalry. The message, posted on the clubhouse door before the game, proclaimed, among other things, that the Mets "know you're better than they are."
When told what Schmidt said about the Mets knowing the Phillies are a better team, Rollins bluntly stated: "Well, that part's true."
Most of the Mets were unaware of Schmidt's message. When asked whether he had ever seen a tactic like that work, Mets third baseman David Wright said, "I see a starting pitcher that goes out there and throws like Brett Myers; that works much better than a rally cry from a former player.
"To each his own. He's a Phillie; obviously, he's a little biased."
Manuel posted the message at Schmidt's request.
"That came from his heart, and he was wanting to kind of give us a push," Manuel said. "I have a lot of respect for Mike, and he loves the Phillies and he wants us to win as much as anybody."
The message from Schmidt, a 1995 inductee into the Hall of Fame, went on to remind the players not to forget the Mets' epic collapse last year, when they squandered the division lead with 17 games left to play.
"One pitch, one at-bat, one play, one situation, think 'small' and 'big' things result, tough at-bats, lots of walks, stay up the middle with men on base, whatever it takes to 'keep the line moving' on offense, 27 outs on defense, the Mets know you're better than they are," Schmidt wrote.
"They remember last year. You guys are never out of a game. Welcome the challenge that confronts you this weekend. You are the stars. Good luck. #20."
Myers was unaware of the e-mail until a reporter informed him after the game. His ignorance had no effect on his performance. He threw eight innings of three-hit ball, and not only did he strike out 10, he also retired 19 of the last 20 he faced.
"That's definitely his best game this year," Manuel said.
Myers entered the game with a 5.19 lifetime ERA against the Mets, but he has been pitching with aplomb since being called back from the minors on July 20, after the Phillies had sent him down to work on his confidence. He got a no-decision in his first start but has gone 6-1 since and is 4-0 with a 0.58 ERA in his past four starts.
"It was probably one of my biggest [starts]," Myers said. "I knew it was going to be a dogfight going in."
The feeling in the Mets' clubhouse after the game was that they had been outpitched, not that they had lost the game because of mental mistakes or a lack of fortitude.
"Last year, we beat ourselves quite a bit," said Wright, whose team fell to 10-6 against the Phillies this season. "Tonight, they came out and beat us. There was very little we could do against Brett Myers."
The tension of this game, the first in a three-game series, was palpable from the beginning. Jayson Werth yelled at himself after striking out in the second inning, having swung at a high fastball for the second out with nobody on base. And hitters were swinging early and often, with the pitchers benefiting: Through four innings, Mets starter Mike Pelfrey and Myers threw 60 and 61 pitches, respectively.
All the hitters had to show for it was Chase Utley's RBI groundout in the first. The Mets had their chance in the sixth inning when rookie phenom Daniel Murphy continued his hot streak. Murphy came into the game hitting .429 in his previous six games, and on Friday, he hit a one-out double. But Wright popped up and Carlos Delgado flew out to center field to end the threat
Dobbs homered to right, a two-run shot in the seventh, before the Mets attempted one last rally in the ninth, when they had two on and one out. Shea Stadium came alive, with an October feel and mid-July temperature. The crowd chanted Carlos Beltran's name. But he flew out, as did Ryan Church, and the game was over.
The Mets were shut out by Philadelphia for the first time since Aug. 16, 2006, when Jon Lieber helped blank New York by the same score. But that was two years ago, before Rollins declared his team the one to beat in 2007, before Beltran returned the favor this spring, before the collapse last September that allowed Philly to take the division.
The questions from reporters Friday night about that collapse were predictable to both sides. The players anticipated them, and most had canned answers. And while Rollins wouldn't bite, he did allow the possibility that his team could creep back into the Mets' heads.
"I think it's only natural if we win all three games," the Phillies shortstop said. "And if not, they'll take a deep breath and get a chance to probably regather themselves.
"But if we win all three games, naturally, they're gonna think back to [last year]. It's just human nature."
And when the season ends in just 23 days, we'll know whether a Hall of Fame third baseman's words had any effect.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.