NEW YORK --- On Saturday, Mike Pelfrey picked up the save in the Mets' 20-inning win. Now, he is trying to save their season.
If the Mets are going to do anything, it could be largely because Pelfrey may finally turn into a bona fide No. 2 starter. So far this season, he has been bona fide No. 1.
"That is a dominant, dominant right-handed, pitcher," Jerry Manuel said after his team won two in a row for the first time this year.
A night after Citi Field lit up with "I like Ike," it added a consonant with "I like Mike."
In the Mets' 4-0 win over the Cubs, Pelfrey threw seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball.
Pelfrey, just 26, looks more mature on the mound as the balks and the lickings have been replaced by confidence and a splitter. His 19 straight scoreless innings match his career high from July 2008.
It's been quite a difference from 2009. Last April, Pelfrey's numbers were ugly. Despite beginning 2-0, he had a 6.32 ERA with six strikeouts and nine walks in 15 2/3 innings after three starts.
Now, Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA with 16 strikeouts and eight walks. If that weren't enough, he leads the team in saves with one thanks to Fernando Tatis' two-run insurance jack in the ninth, which disqualified Francisco Rodriguez from picking up his first save Tuesday night.
It was a good night all around for the Mets, save for David Wright and the injury update on Carlos Beltran. While Jose Reyes danced around the bases with four hits, including a two-run triple, and Pelfrey froze the Cubs, Wright heard his loudest boos of the season when he hit into a seventh-inning double play.
The night, though, belonged to Pelfrey. He used his split-finger to neutralize the Cubs. They looked helpless, which is how Pelfrey has made hitters look all season.
"He has a great rhythm," Manuel said. "He has a better presence."
For a little while, it looked as if Pelfrey might have the first no-hitter in Mets history. The Cubs were hitless heading into the fifth when Alfonso Soriano flailed a soft liner to left. Jason Bay sprinted in and made a nice running catch to preserve the possible no-hitter, much to the delight of the announced crowd of 27,502.
The Mets don't do no-nos, though, so the next batter, Mike Fontenot, laced a single to left. The no-hitter was history, but Pelfrey wasn't. He would give up two more hits, but would not let a Cub advance farther than second.
"I feel like I'm a different pitcher, being able to throw the secondary stuff for strikes," Pelfrey said. "I owe [pitching coach] Dan Warthen a lot of credit, because that split-finger makes all the difference in the world because it has been huge for me."
Right now, Pelfrey seems better than the 2008 version (when he posted a career-best 3.72 ERA). The mental part of the game has always been the toughest for Pelfrey to deal with.
A year ago, imagine how he would have reacted if after pitching well, he was asked to come in as reliever in a 20-inning game -- and then didn't feel right early in his next start?
As good as Pelfrey looked Tuesday night, he said early on he thought he might be wild after Saturday in St. Louis. The old doubts crept into his head.
A year ago, this would have sunk Pelfrey. Now, Pelfrey rallied. He kept composed. He led the Mets to their second win in a row.
"It is a start," Pelfrey said.
If he can finish it off this season, things may not seem so bleak at Citi.