For eight innings, the only real drama that filled pumped-up Citi Field was whether R.A. Dickey would get a shutout to go along with his 19th win.
When the New York Mets' star knuckleballer went back to the mound for the ninth, a shutout seemed like a foregone conclusion, but moments later all Dickey could do was watch from the bench and hope that struggling reliever Jon Rauch could shut down the Miami Marlins with the tying run on second base.
Rauch came through by the slimmest of margins, and Dickey and the Mets breathed a sigh of relief when they escaped with a 4-3 victory on Saturday.
Dickey allowed a four-pitch walk and a double to open the ninth, and Rauch surrendered a three-run homer to John Buck before striking out Gorkys Hernandez to end it.
"We ultimately got the win but it was definitely a little harder than we wanted it to be," said Jason Bay, who staked Dickey to a 2-0 lead with a second-inning homer.
Just hours after the Mets snapped a nine-game losing streak at Citi Field on Friday and scored more than three runs in their home ballpark for the first time since Aug. 12, New York broke out the bats again in front of a crowd of 30,332.
The Marlins rallied but couldn't finish off the comeback after Buck was awarded a home run when a video review determined his drive struck the left-field foul pole.
"I knew it hit the pole and I was just waiting for the reversal," Bay said. "It was kind of like, 'this can't be happening.'"
The Mets have won consecutive games at home for the first time since topping Houston on Aug. 25-26 — the last two games before the start of their most recent home skid.
Dickey got to 19 wins on his third try after two consecutive losses — the only time this season he has been beaten in back-to-back starts.
Washington's Gio Gonzalez, who earned his 20th win on Saturday, and Dickey are the only major leaguers with at least 19.
The knuckleballer batted for himself in the eighth, despite already throwing 104 pitches, and heard cheers and chants of his name when he returned to the mound in the ninth.
He tried to finish his fourth shutout of the season but was pulled after Greg Dobbs led off with a walk and Donovan Solano followed with a double.
"Nobody wants this guy to win more than me," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I could not let him get into a situation where he might lose that game."
Rauch then allowed Buck's 12th homer before getting three outs for his fourth save.
"I had a quick eighth, so I was game to try to give the fans a treat and a complete game," Dickey said. "I felt pretty good and I told Terry, 'I'm good.' He has trusted me all year. I went back out there and tried it, and he pulled me when he needed to and we won the game."
Dickey yielded two runs, six hits — including three by Solano and two by Gil Velazquez — and two walks.
Dickey nearly provided another thrill with his bat when he sent a long drive to left field with the bases loaded in the sixth, but was robbed of an extra-base hit when Bryan Petersen jumped into the fence to make a highlight-reel catch.
"That is as close as I'll probably ever get," Dickey said. "That was all this old man can do. I cheated on the pitch. He threw me a good pitch to hit. Everything was perfect."
After a wild pitch on a knuckler, Dickey worked out of a jam in the second inning by striking out Hernandez and Jose Reyes with runners on second and third.
"He struck out the guy when he needed to strike out the guy," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "That was a huge, huge inning for him."
Five of Dickey's wins this season have come against the last-place Marlins, the only team in the NL East behind the Mets. He should get one more start against them in the final series of the season in Miami.
"He obviously is good. It's not like he's just had our number," Buck said. "We didn't single-handedly hand him the Cy Young. He did have to face some other teams. We're obviously a big part of the reason."
Dickey struck out four to retake the league lead from Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw and will be in position to reach 20 wins for the first time when he faces Pittsburgh on Thursday in his final home start of the season.
Bay provided the punch against Mark Buehrle (13-13) in the second by launching a two-run homer to straightaway center for his eighth of the season. It was Bay's second consecutive shot against Buehrle, having hit a grand slam against the left-hander in Miami on Sept. 2 to pace the Mets to a 5-1 win.
Scott Hairston pushed New York's lead to 3-0 in the fourth when he led off with his 19th homer of the season and second in two days. Hairston had to wait through a video review before he finished his trot in from second base, as the ball was originally ruled in play off the center field fence.
Replays showed the ball struck the batter's eye above the blue wall 408 feet from home plate.
Buehrle allowed four runs and five hits with three walks and three strikeouts in six innings of his 30th start of the season. He is six innings shy of reaching 200, which would give him 12 straight seasons of 10 wins, 30 starts and 200 innings — the longest current streak in the majors.
NOTES: Mets closer Frank Francisco was again unavailable after feeling soreness in his elbow. ... Dickey is the first Mets pitcher with 19 wins since Frank Viola (20) and Dwight Gooden (19) did it in 1990. ... Lucas Duda returned to the Mets lineup one day after being pulled from the game by Collins for not running out a pop fly that dropped. ... Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton sat out a fourth consecutive game because of a strained muscle in his side. ... Buehrle is 0-3 against the Mets in his career, all this season.