NEW YORK -- The ballpark grew quiet, the Mets fans jolted out of their rare reverie at Citi Field.
For eight innings, R.A. Dickey had done what he has so often this season, lift the Mets out of a dismal situation for at least a day. He had brought fans into the ballpark, given them something meaningful to hope for as he took aim at his 19th win, with the hope of becoming the club's first 20-game winner in 22 years, at Citi Field next Thursday.
He earned that 19th victory in the Mets' 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins on Saturday, but no one yet knew that when Dickey exited with two on and no one out in the ninth.
And when Miami's John Buck hushed the crowd with a three-run homer off reliever Jon Rauch, the fear of yet another spoiled day at Citi Field spread through the ballpark.
"You just think of how it had gone so swimmingly the last eight innings ... then, 'boom, boom, boom,' " said left fielder Jason Bay, who had seen Buck's shot hit the left-field foul pole and knew the replay review would prompt the umps to overturn the original call of a ground-rule double. "It was kind of like, 'This can't be happening.' "
The Mets and their fans had been used to such misery throughout the second half, but Dickey's start offered an opportunity to escape.
Dickey (19-6) had rewarded the fans' loyalty, first by asking for the chance to make an extra home start despite the Mets' recent woes there, then by pitching eight shutout innings.
The ballpark, which had a pall cast over it as the home losing streak reached nine with Thursday's 16-1 loss to the Phillies, suddenly featured an energy rarely seen in the past few months.
"These fans have been so loyal to me this year," Dickey said. "They showed up today. I don't know how many were here, but whoever were here were pretty loud. It was nice. I appreciated it."
For most of the game, the Mets gave their fans something to appreciate. Bay hit a rare homer, off Mark Buehrle (13-13) and into the black in center field, for a 2-0 lead in the second. Scott Hairston added his second homer in as many games for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
Josh Thole doubled to lead off the fifth and eventually scored on a fielder's choice and the Mets had a 4-0 lead.
Fresh off a win Friday night, the Mets had a chance to make it two in a row and support their ace's NL Cy Young award candidacy, on the day Washington's Gio Gonzalez won his 20th game of the year.
But then Dickey was gone with no one out in the ninth, having put the first two runners on, with a walk and a double. The fans gave Dickey a standing ovation after chanting his name to start the inning. They booed manager Terry Collins when he lifted Dickey, but the knuckleballer had thrown 110 pitches and first looked gassed two innings before, Collins said.
Buck greeted Rauch with the three-run homer and suddenly the only game that seemed to have significance for the Mets lately was in danger.
"You're definitely a little more focused," Bay said. "You want to win every game you have ... but you get to that point in the ballgame with what Dickey's got on the line ... Yeah, that's a little bit different feel."
The tension increased as Rauch gave up a one-out single to pinch hitter Rob Brantly, but he got Bryan Petersen on a fielder's choice for the second out. Petersen stole second to put the tying run in scoring position, but Gorkys Hernandez struck out to end the game, and the Mets had gotten Dickey his coveted victory.
"We won the game, so it worked out," said Dickey, who had watched the ninth from the dugout, his cap off, his eyes widening after the homer. "I was thankful for the opportunity."
Now Dickey gets his shot at home to become the first Met to win 20 games since Frank Viola in 1990. To give the franchise its ninth such season for one of their pitchers.
"It's an honor," he said of being mentioned with some of the Mets' top pitching names, such as Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
The pitcher whose breakout season has fluttered into view at age 37 as unpredictably as the dancing knuckle ball that made it possible also gave himself another chance at pitching's top honor.
His eight innings of two-run ball, in which he struck out four and walked two, lowered his ERA to 2.66. It also again earned his opponent's admiration.
He smiled as he recounted former teammate Jose Reyes wishing him luck as Dickey reached second base in the fifth.
"He said, 'Don't slide hard, because I want you to win the Cy Young award,' " Dickey said with a smile. "He was sweet."
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is often more acerbic than saccharine, but he also offered Dickey praise.
"He's a very good candidate to be a Cy Young winner and we couldn't do nothing about it," he said.
Dickey even offered a surprise drive at the plate, smacking a pitch over Petersen's head in the sixth, but the left fielder went back and made a perfectly timed leaping catch at the wall to steal the hit.
He settled for the win that improved his record to 19-6 and energized a ballpark that had become dormant in the season's closing days. It seemed like a deal worth taking.
"It's hard, it's hard," he said of winning 19 and shooting for 20. "You'd see more 20-game winners if it wasn't so hard."
Notes: Lucas Duda was in the lineup at first base for the Mets a day after Collins pulled him after his first at-bat for not running hard on a pop up that fell in for a hit. Collins said Duda knows he made a mistake and "you've got to move past it." ... The Mets scored at least four runs for the second straight game, after going 16 games at Citi Field without doing so. ... Several reports from South Florida media outlets refuted a previous report that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would fire Larry Beinfest, the club's president of baseball operations. Guillen's job was also reportedly in jeopardy, though he laughed off such rumors this weekend.