CINCINNATI -- That the chances of a collapse remain painfully slim have provided little comfort for Terry Collins. The Mets manager has barely bothered to hide his emotions.
Yes, the ride has been bumpy of late, but at no point have the Mets been in imminent danger of ceding the driver's seat in the NL East. Still, Collins has appeared wound tight, even tense, despite his insistence that he can "manage the anxiety."
Only victories can take the edge off, which is why Thursday night's 6-4 win over the Reds provided some much-needed therapy for the Mets, who inched closer to their first division championship since 2006.
Daniel Murphy continued on his tear, collecting three hits, including an RBI triple in the seventh inning that put the Mets ahead for good. It came after Long Island's Steven Matz blew a two-run lead, allowing the Reds to tie the score at 3 before he departed with two outs in the sixth.
But the Mets got run-scoring hits from Lucas Duda, David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes, positive signs that a stagnant offense might once again be coming to life.
Most important, the Mets shaved their magic number to three, aided in part by the Nationals, who blew a late lead and were swept by the Orioles.
The Mets lead by 7 1/2 games with nine games to play, and champagne could be splashed around their clubhouse as early as Saturday. They trail the Dodgers by 11/2 games for home-field advantage in the NLDS.
"It was a good ballgame tonight," Murphy said. "It was a good win. It put us one step closer."
Matz offered another mixed bag in his 5 2/3 innings. He tied a career high with eight strikeouts and walked none. But he surrendered 10 hits, which got louder as the game went on.
"This is definitely the best I've felt," said Matz, who was more comfortable with his fastball command Thursday night than at any other point since return from the disabled list.
Working with a 3-1 lead, Matz allowed the Reds to chip away. In the fifth, Brandon Phillips ripped a breaking pitch to left for a run-scoring single, cutting the Reds' deficit to one run before Todd Frazier's long fly ball to left stopped at the warning track.
Back out for the sixth, Matz didn't survive to see the end of the frame, victimized by Adam Duvall's pinch-hit single on a one-hopper that skipped past Wright at third base.
But the Mets regained control with a three-run seventh, an uprising powered by the Mets' biggest bats. Murphy finished 3-for-5, including his triple that scored Curtis Granderson with the go-ahead run. Murphy is hitting .461 (12-for-26) over his last seven games.
"He's locked in," Collins said of Murphy. "We've seen it for six years. When this guy gets hot, nobody can get him out."
Cespedes followed with an RBI single, his second hit of the game. He knocked in a pair of runs, bringing his tally to 105 for the season.
Duda gave the Mets their third run of the seventh, ripping a double to the gap in left-center. The first baseman had only two RBIs since returning from a back injury on Sept. 8. But he equaled that total Thursday night, including an RBI double in the Mets' three-run third.
Hansel Robles allowed a Jay Bruce homer in the eighth after surviving another controversy regarding his quick pitch. Umpires ruled his quick pitch to Bruce a ball, prompting Collins to emerge from the dugout to question why it hadn't been called a no-pitch.
Jeurys Familia worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 42nd save, one shy of equaling the franchise record held by Armando Benitez.