SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Josh Thole experienced plenty of growing pains behind the plate in recent years as he tried to get up to speed as a catcher, but his ability to hit for a high average always had come naturally.
Then, confronted with adversity for the first time as a professional, Thole struggled and slumped while opening the season with Triple-A Buffalo, his average dipping to .194 on May 18.
Ultimately, Thole straightened himself out and was promoted to the New York Mets last week to serve as a third catcher. On Wednesday, he provided a big hit off the bench for a second straight day to ensure the Mets weren't swept off this island they appear poised to return to next season.
After delivering a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning on Tuesday that evened the score in what became a loss a half-inning later, Thole again stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday and helped lift the Mets to a 6-5 win over the Florida Marlins.
Thole's bases-loaded pinch-hit single in the sixth inning scored Jason Bay and broke a 4-all tie as the Mets salvaged the series finale at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez stranded the tying run at third base in the ninth to complete a four-out save.
"I feel like when I was struggling, I was making adjustments I didn't have to make," Thole said. "I just had to keep doing my thing, pretty much. Now I feel like I am back to where I was when I left last season, went to winter ball and came into spring training. When I broke camp, I felt like I got a little scatterbrained and a little lost out there and I was trying to change things and I shouldn't have."
The Mets appear likely to return next year to San Juan. The Marlins, who committed four errors on Wednesday, drew a combined 55,678 fans for the three games in Puerto Rico. They reportedly intend to bring another home series to San Juan in 2011, before their new stadium opens the following season.
Meanwhile, it took a while to get to the point of Thole's heroics.
Shortstop Jose Reyes was scratched pregame after feeling discomfort on his right side during his final swings of batting practice. Puerto Rico native and former Yankee Bernie Williams performed the national anthems. Williams and fellow former MLB stars Roberto Alomar and Edgar Martinez threw out ceremonial first pitches. An 80-minute rain delay stalled the game's official first pitch. And a 38-minute first inning ensued once play began -- all but ensuring the Mets would arrive in Washington for a four-game weekend series against the Nationals after dawn.
David Wright produced a two-run double in a three-run first inning against Marlins right-hander Chris Volstad. The third baseman hit .404 for the month of June (42-for-104); he also had 29 RBIs in June. Wright became the first player in franchise history to hit at least .400 and produce at least 25 RBIs in a calendar month, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey, bidding for his 11th win to already surpass his total last season, required 40 pitches to navigate the bottom of the first inning. It ultimately proved to be Pelfrey's shortest outing since May 1 at Philadelphia, when he was battered in a six-run fourth inning and departed.
This time, Pelfrey was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning and runners on the corners, when the Marlins inserted Mike Lamb as a pinch-hitter for Volstad. Reliever Elmer Dessens retired Lamb on a comebacker to preserve a 4-4 tie, ensuring Pelfrey -- who surrendered a career-high 12 hits while tossing 108 pitches -- received a no-decision.
Pelfrey has allowed an inordinate number of first-inning runs of late -- seven in his last four outings. He has allowed multiple hits in the first inning in each of his past five starts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"I don't see a trend," manager Jerry Manuel said. "What I am seeing is that I don't see him attacking the right-handed hitters inside."
Said Pelfrey: "I think the last couple of starts I've shortened my routine before the game. I think my next start I'm going to have to go back to throwing those extra 15 or 20 pitches and see if that works. I got away from my full routine just because it's later in the year."
Down 6-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth, the Marlins pulled within 6-5 in Mets reliever Bobby Parnell's second inning of work. But with two on base after an intentional walk to Hanley Ramirez, Rodriguez entered and retired pinch-hitter Wes Helms on a first-pitch fly out to center field.
Cora pronounced the three-game event a success for his native island, although he lamented the way it ended. A fight in the stands during the seventh inning forced his family to leave before Wednesday's game concluded. Mets players, including Reyes, even stepped out of the dugout to watch the fight during the middle of the seventh inning.
"It's kind of sad to say this, but what happened today, it left a bad taste in my mouth," Cora said. "The whole thing was great. And just because of two or three clowns in the stands, it left a bad taste in everybody's mouth. My family had to leave. That's not the way it's supposed to be."