The biggest, most crucial, most important, life-or-death, make-or-break series of the season is over.

Now it's time for another one.

Having salvaged one game out of three in a disappointing showing against the San Diego Padres, the Phillies play the first of four games against the New York Mets tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

Yesterday's win over San Diego pulled the Phils to within three games of the Padres in the National League wild-card race. The Phils trail New York by six games in the National League East.

This is the Phillies' chance to pull closer heading into the final month. Or fall farther behind as the season begins to dwindle.

"There's no doubt it's a big series," centerfielder Aaron Rowand said. "It's time to put up or shut up. We have 33 games left. We have to step up and leave it all out there."

The Phils are 5-6 against the Mets this season. The Mets won three of four in Philadelphia from June 29 to July 1. Sellout crowds came out for that series. As always, when the Mets come to town, many of their vocal fans follow.

"I hope the Phillies fans buy all the tickets, so the Mets fans can't get in," closer Brett Myers said. "It's going to be fun. It'll be more fun if we come out on top."

Said catcher Chris Coste: "Just because it's the Mets makes it a big series. Whether you're 20 up or 20 down, no team wants to lose. That we're in a race makes it more interesting. They want to beat us as bad as we want to beat them."

The Phillies' starting pitching was in bad shape the last time the Mets came to town. Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber had gone down. Those injuries and a doubleheader forced the Phillies to patch together a rotation that included three rookies (J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick) in the series.

All these weeks later, the rotation is still a patchwork that includes castoffs and high earned-run averages.

Durbin, who has been on waivers four times this season, faces Brian Lawrence tonight. Adam Eaton (6.36 ERA) comes off the disabled list to face Tom Glavine tomorrow night. Jamie Moyer and Kyle Lohse pitch the final two games against Oliver Perez and Orlando Hernandez, respectively.

The Phillies, the NL's highest-scoring team, are 2-34 when they score three or fewer runs and 65-28 when they score four or more. They scored 14 yesterday and will need to keep pounding the ball to win the Mets series.

"It's not make-or-break necessarily, because there's a month left," Coste said. "But we can approach it like that, because if we lose three of four, we'll be in deep trouble. We need to keep close so we can make a run."

The Mets and Phillies have developed a good rivalry the last couple of seasons, but it wasn't always this way.

A rivalry works on the premise of both teams being good at the same time, and that has happened infrequently.

The Mets and Phillies have had winning records in the same season just six times: 2006, 2005, 2001, 1986, 1976 and 1975. Only twice (1986 and 2006) have they finished one-two in the NL East, and the races weren't close. The Mets won by 211/2 games in 1986 and 12 last season.

The rivalry was stoked when Mets closer Billy Wagner, a former Phillie, took some jabs at some of his former mates (particularly Pat Burrell) last season. In spring training this year, some Mets took exception to Jimmy Rollins' proclamation that the Phillies were the team to beat in the division.

Myers and Wagner, both known for being outspoken, have sparred through the media, but Myers says everything is good between the two. Wagner sought out Myers during the Mets' last trip to Philadelphia and complimented him on his work as a closer.

"I don't have much beef toward him anymore," Myers said. "He pulled me aside and said, 'I like what you're doing.' Hearing that from a guy with more than 300 saves meant a lot because I'm just starting as a closer.

"I have no problem with Billy. What was said was a lot of third-party stuff. But I still want to beat him."