The Mets began the second half by embarking on a 10-game road trip. It took them through three cities and pit them against a pair of teams pushing for the postseason. It was a test.
And it many ways, they passed it.
With Sunday's tense 2-0 victory over the Brewers, the Mets emerged from their road trip at 5-5, treading water when they could have as easily sunk. Because they didn't, the Mets (50-55) return to Citi Field Monday 81/2 games out of first place in the National League East, still on the fringe of contention.
"It's huge for us, it's really big for us," manager Terry Collins said.
Righthander Jacob deGrom tossed 61/3 shutout innings against one of the league's best offenses, further bolstering his rookie-of-the-year candidacy.
Flourishing slugger Lucas Duda hit his fourth homer in his last six games, a two-run shot in the sixth.
And the Mets ended the trip with as many wins as they had losses, even though they were outscored, 36-22, against the Padres, Mariners and Brewers.
"It just goes to show you how good our pitching's been," Mets captain David Wright said. "And how they've picked up the offense on this trip."
The Mets finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, capping a road trip in which the offense hit just .189 and averaged 2.2 runs per game. But they got one timely swing from Duda, who has carried the Mets during the road trip. In the sixth, he hammered Jimmy Nelson's 0-2 slider into the upper deck in rightfield.
"We had a great road trip," said Duda, who leads the Mets in homers (18) and RBIs (56). "We're pitching well. We've had some timely hitting and hopefully we continue to play well."
Duda's one swing was plenty to support the 26-year-old rookie deGrom, who extended what has been an impressive stretch. Over his last four starts, all of them Mets victories, deGrom posted a 0.66 ERA.
Poor run support helped deGrom's record fall to 0-4. But with wins in five of his last six decisions, he has evened his mark to 5-5.
"I said earlier that the wins and losses would take care of themselves," deGrom said. "That's kind of turned around for me."
Victory No. 5 did not come easily. The Brewers fouled off many pitches early on and entering the seventh deGrom had already thrown 109 pitches.
The Mets have expressed a desire to monitor deGrom's workload in the second half. And with his spot due up second in the order, he appeared destined to be replaced by a pinch hitter.
But Thursday's off day means deGrom will next pitch on Saturday with an extra day of rest. That was enough for Collins to push deGrom, letting him hit for himself before coming back out for the seventh.
DeGrom allowed hits to two of the three hitters he faced before giving way to Vic Black, who stranded both baserunners. Still, he appreciated the chance to keep pitching, which he took as a show of faith by Collins.
"I wanted to go back out there," deGrom said. "That means a lot that they have confidence in me to go back out there in the seventh inning with that many pitches. That means a lot."