Heath Bell and the San Diego Padres have good reason to feel confident with a late lead. That's why Monday night's meltdown was such a surprise.
Lucas Duda's two-run single capped a three-run ninth against the All-Star closer, and the banged-up New York Mets rallied past the Padres 9-8 in the opener of a four-game series.
Jason Bartlett's bases-loaded double capped a four-run eighth that gave the Padres an 8-4 lead. But their normally reliable bullpen couldn't hold it, and New York snapped San Diego's four-game winning streak.
"Best in baseball," manager Bud Black said about his relief corps. "It doesn't happen, so it's a rarity. But I think it just goes to show you that players aren't invincible."
Angel Pagan, Jason Bay and David Wright homered for the Mets, who started strong and finished with a flourish after putting their top two hitters on the disabled list.
Shortstop Jose Reyes is sidelined with a strained left hamstring, the same problem that landed the NL's leading hitter on the disabled list for 16 days last month. Daniel Murphy, who filled in admirably for injured first baseman Ike Davis, is likely done for the season because of a left knee injury.
"We're not conceding anything," Wright said. "There are a lot of games left. Crazier things have happened."
Pagan moved up to Reyes' spot at the top of the lineup and hit his third career leadoff homer.
Ruben Tejada, recalled from Triple-A Buffalo, started at shortstop and made a tough defensive play in an important situation.
Duda, who had three hits, singled to start a two-run eighth against Chad Qualls. Bay walked and pinch-hitter Mike Baxter, just promoted from Triple-A Buffalo, delivered an RBI double when left fielder Kyle Blanks misplayed the deep drive, letting it glance off his glove.
"One hundred percent I should have had that ball," Blanks said. "The last 10, 15 feet the ball moved a lot more than I thought it was going to."
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last month, Baxter grew up in Queens about 10 minutes from the Mets' home and went to games at Shea Stadium as a kid. But he had never been to Citi Field, which opened in 2009, before arriving in the clubhouse Monday.
After his key hit, Baxter clapped his hands at second base as his family stood and cheered in the stands. It was his second major league hit and RBI.
"If it's caught, nothing really happens," Qualls said. "By dropping it, it kind of gave them a little bit of life."
Ronny Paulino's sacrifice fly cut it to 8-6.
"I think if we still have a four-run lead there, I don't think they really think they have a chance," Qualls said. "I think more or less that play out in left was pivotal in the game."
Jason Pridie opened the ninth with a single off Bell (2-4), a former Met, and moved up on a wild pitch as Pagan struck out. Justin Turner's single put runners at the corners and Wright smacked an RBI single up the middle.
Another wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third before Duda grounded a single up the middle, just past diving second baseman Orlando Hudson.
Wright scored the winning run with a headfirst slide into the leg of plate umpire Marty Foster, and the jubilant Mets mobbed Duda near second base.
Willie Harris pelted Duda in the face with a cream pie as he was interviewed on the field.
"It's great to get a win like this. There's a lot of fight with the guys here," Mets starter Mike Pelfrey said.
Jason Isringhausen (3-2) worked a scoreless ninth for the win.
Bell's third blown save in 34 chances dropped the Padres to 44-2 when taking a lead into the ninth.
"His stuff was good. The Mets had good at-bats," Black said. "The wild pitch came back to haunt us."
The Padres said they had won 187 straight games when leading by at least two runs in the ninth, while the Mets had lost 195 in a row when trailing by two or more. Citing research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the club said each streak was the longest of its kind.
Jesus Guzman had two RBI singles for San Diego and Tim Stauffer lasted seven innings after serving up three early homers. Coming off a three-game sweep at slumping Pittsburgh, the last-place Padres fought back from a 4-1 deficit against Mike Pelfrey with their latest offensive outburst.
San Diego, which began the day at the bottom of the NL rankings in home runs (63) and batting average (.235), has scored 46 runs in the last five games.
"I think we're still on a roll. Everybody's swinging the bat well, playing hard," third baseman Logan Forsythe said.
Bay hit his 200th career homer leading off the second and Wright added a two-run shot to make it 4-1 in the third, but the Padres tied it with a three-run sixth. Bartlett started the rally with a single and Blanks capped it with an RBI double.
NOTES: Stauffer had given up only eight homers all season. ... San Diego placed 3B Chase Headley (broken left pinkie) and reliever Ernesto Frieri (strained lower back) on the 15-day DL. To fill their spots, the Padres selected the contract of infielder James Darnell and recalled LHP Wade LeBlanc from Triple-A Tucson. LeBlanc is scheduled to start Tuesday night. Headley is expected to be out four to six weeks.