NEW YORK - The Mets submitted a lineup card Friday night that included 39 active players, 11 of which were relievers. Their scheduled starter succumbed to persistent shoulder soreness, and a strep throat befell their starter for Saturday, but Terry Collins activated his bullpen in the second inning of a 10-5 win over the Phillies.
The defending National League champions are trapped in a three-team race for two wild-card spots. Their precarious position has manifested in a perverted type of baseball for two nights at Citi Field between a rebuilding club and a desperate one. The kind of baseball that features 210 pitches to complete five innings and a constant stream of pitching changes that substitute one triple-A arm for another.
It has, somehow, worked for New York.
The Phillies and Mets played Friday for 3 hours, 40 minutes. A total of 38 men appeared in the game. The patient Mets outlasted an erratic Jeremy Hellickson and mounted a six-run fifth inning, aided by a Roman Quinn error in right field.
The Phillies made it interesting with a pinch-hit homer from Darin Ruf, who had not batted in nine days. But New York padded its lead against Colton Murray, who had pitched once in the previous 13 days, and lefty Pat Schuster, a waiver claim pitching for the first time in 12 days.
Collins, the Mets manager, used three pitchers to survive the seventh inning. He pinch-hit for his starter, Gabriel Ynoa, in the second inning. He will ask his bullpen to record all 27 outs on Saturday.
"It's taking advantage of the rule," Hellickson said. "It's getting a little out of hand, but I think everybody would do the same thing. You've got 15 guys down there, why not use them all? And it worked."
Friday's game dragged, but it still represented an improvement from the previous night. On Thursday, the two teams used 49 players in a 4-hour, 23-minute game that lasted 11 innings. The Mets set a franchise record by using 27 players.
"Let's put it this way: That's the thing about September," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "They have a lefty for every righty I bring in and vice versa. That's what makes it so difficult. There's no moves you can make that can't be countered. So, what are you going to do?"
There will be a new collective bargaining agreement this winter, and among the talking points between the owners and the players' union are methods to police runaway roster management in September. For decades, 25-man rosters have expanded to 40 as a chance for some clubs to add depth and others to promote young players for a taste of the majors.
But, as the specialization of the game reaches unprecedented levels, managers are tempted to play matchup in every possible situation.
"I know one thing," Collins joked after Friday's game. "You come to the park these days, you know you're going to get into the game."
At a time when the sport's leaders are searching for solutions to speed the pace of play, September is a conundrum. They do not want to punish contenders who search for every competitive advantage. But should the rules of the game be the same for five months only to change in the most important one?
One possible scenario: Allow teams to expand their rosters to 40, but force them to declare an active 25-man roster (or a number close to that) before every game. The 40-man roster players who are not active on that given night are still paid and earn big-league service time. This way, managers would be forced to apply pregame strategy without drastic alterations to the style of the actual game.
There are, of course, more pressing issues in the negotiations than September rosters. But if the two sides were to watch eight hours of video showing these Phillies-Mets games, they could be compelled otherwise.