PHILADELPHIA -- Sample size is a concept bandied about freely in the early days of the season. Strong starts in places such as Baltimore and Kansas City and yes, even Flushing, N.Y., mean little in the context of a larger, longer season.
But to ignore everything in the first week of the season would be foolish. To ignore Chris Young mowing down Phillies in a 7-1 Mets win Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, for example, would be to disregard a most important aspect of this summer. To win, the Mets desperately need Young and Chris Capuano to remain healthy and productive at the back of their rotation.
So far, so good.
Brushing aside the night's damp chill, Young fired 5 1/3 effective innings and added a career-high three hits at the plate, including two off Cole Hamels during a six-run outburst in the third inning.
Fluky? Maybe. But to ignore all that would be downright cynical, so the visiting manager instead spent his postgame hours underscoring it.
"I think we can play with anybody," Terry Collins said. "I've said that all along, and I think we've shown that so far."
With a healthy Young, at least, the Mets are a significantly better team. Striking out five of the first eight batters he faced, Young allowed nothing more than a stray run in the fifth, after which he lobbied Collins to let him keep on pitching. He finished with seven whiffs, four walks and just the one run.
His catcher, Mike Nickeas, called it "sparkling." His center fielder, Angel Pagan, called it "unbelievable."
Young just called it business.
"It's a lot better than losing your first start," he said.
Young also lauded the offense, never calling attention to the fact that he played perhaps the biggest role of all. Singling to open the third inning against Hamels, Young was the first to score on David Wright's RBI double later that inning. After Ike Davis and Brad Emaus singled in runs of their own, Young also drove in the final run of the six-run frame with another clean single to left.
Beating out an infield single in his final at-bat of the evening, Young became the first Mets pitcher to record three hits in a game since Tom Glavine in 2005.
But he was far from the only offensive star. Not to be outdone by his pitcher, Wright finished with four hits, two runs scored and a stolen base. It was Wright's 15th career four-hit game, which ranks second in franchise history next to Jose Reyes (19). Pagan and Reyes each reached base twice, collaborating on a double-steal in the first. Of the starting nine, only Nickeas was unable to reach base -- but he called the entire game for pitchers Young, D.J. Carrasco, Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell.
As Nickeas knows, it is details such as those that define a season -- and so it was details such as those that made Tuesday more encouraging than a typical win. It was Young being self-aware enough to ditch his curveball for a splitter, the latter pitch diving under Phillies bats throughout the middle innings. It was Wright driving the ball to center field rather than to left. It was Emaus pumping his fist at first base after singling home a key run in the third.
It was all enough to sway Charlie Manuel, manager of the division's four-time defending champs.
"I hear some people talk about the Mets," Manuel said. "The Mets have a pretty good lineup, really. They've got some players. I hear people talk about how many games they're going to lose. Let me tell you something: They've got good players. Look at their lineup. They've got some speed. They've got some power. They put together 13 hits tonight. We've got to beat them. We've got to play hard against them. They're more than a second-division team, I'm telling you."
Technically, they're a first-place team, tied with the Phillies after four games. And yes, it's a small sample size, and yes, the Mets have 158 to go. But jumping out to this hot start was crucial for a team that many penciled in for last in the division.
"It feels good to win and it feels good to put some runs on the board," said Wright, peering over a crowd of reporters to watch highlights -- Mets highlights -- on a clubhouse television. "We have the type of lineup where we're not going to sit back and be successful trying to play for a three-run home run."
"Well, I'd like a three-run homer now and then," Collins said. "But we'll take big hits."