ARLINGTON -- Publicly, they relished it, but some small part of the Mets had to dread this 16-game stretch leading up to the All-Star break. Major League Baseball's schedule makers were not kind to the Mets this season, bunching several of their toughest opponents together in one daunting clump. Cynics figured the stretch would break them.
So far, three games in, it has not. The Mets spent their weekend at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington displaying a bizarre sort of baseball resolve, peppering the reigning American League pennant winners with singles and doubles and homerless rallies. Sunday's 8-5 victory over the Rangers -- like Saturday's win before it -- was indicative of the sort of offensive club the Mets have become: Punchless yet effective, relying on contact, speed and a bit of good fortune.
"The bottom line is we scored runs and we won the game," hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. "So I really don't care."
Combined with Dillon Gee's adequate outing in front of hundreds of hometown fans, it was once again enough. The Mets survived a late scare from closer Francisco Rodriguez, an 0-for-5 day from outfielder Jason Bay, and a fifth straight game without a home run. Music pulsed afterward in the visiting clubhouse. The Mets relished their successes and discarded the rest.
"They played very well," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They made a ton of defensive plays, and once again their top of the order did a great job. [Jose] Reyes was all over the bases."
That began from the outset, when the aforementioned Reyes singled and scored in the first inning for a second straight game, this time stealing a bag in the process. Reyes singled and scored again on Carlos Beltran's two-run hit in the second inning, hit safely a third time in the fourth, then whacked his 14th triple of the season to the right-center-field gap in the ninth. The four hits not only constituted his league-leading 39th multihit game, but also represented a microcosm of his ballclub's afternoon.
Take Daniel Murphy as another example: Three hits, no homers, one RBI and two runs scored. Or Ronny Paulino: Two hits, two runs scored, no homers. The Mets rapped out 31 hits in total over their two wins in Arlington, scoring 22 runs without the benefit of a homer.
They're fine with that.
"You like homers, because usually when you out-homer a team you win," Hudgens said. "But when you bang out 16 or 17 hits, you usually win, too."
"We know right now, we don't hit too many home runs," Reyes said. "So we have to use the speed that we have."
Such speed is not necessarily limited to the basepaths. With Gee struggling in the first inning, serving up a solo homer to Michael Young to spark a run of four consecutive hits, Reyes bailed him out by ending the inning with a fine stop of Taylor Teagarden's ground ball, throwing to second for the forceout to end the inning.
It was a critical play, even if it was only the first inning, since it came after the Rangers had scored twice to take a 2-1 lead and threatened for more with the bases loaded and two outs.
For all their firepower, and for all Gee's ineffectiveness, the Rangers did not break through again until the fifth inning, when Young singled home former Shea Stadium fan favorite Endy Chavez.
By that time, the Mets were leading by two and relatively in control. Though Gee lasted only six innings and allowed three runs, he came away plenty pleased with his ability to ward off some unusual jitters. Pitching with more than three dozen family members, and hundreds of fans from his nearby hometown, in attendance, Gee recorded his eighth win of the season against one loss.
"It was really weird being here and pitching," he said. "I just tried my best to put that out of my head."
His performance, and the performance of the offense, was precisely what the Mets needed at the most critical juncture of their season. With rumors already swirling around the team and its status as a potential Trade Deadline seller, the Mets could hardly afford to swoon in advance of the All-Star break. Yet remaining upright, they knew, would be easier said than done. In addition to this weekend's series in Texas, the Mets still must tackle the first-place Tigers in Detroit, the first-place Yankees at Citi Field, the pitching-rich Dodgers in Los Angeles, and the first-place -- and defending World Series champion -- Giants in San Francisco.
With their page-a-day calendar carrying ominous messages, the Mets could ill afford to begin that stretch by losing two or three games to the Rangers in Arlington. Although the meat of their schedule still lies ahead, the Mets at least managed to avoid that fate, and now stand three steps closer to a happy All-Star break.
In the interim, they plan to enjoy their newfound successes and .500 record. After landing in Detroit with his team on Sunday night, manager Terry Collins planned to drive up to Midland, Mich., to visit his sister and 92-year-old father. Jon Niese planned to travel home to Ohio for a brief holiday with his own family. The rest of the team planned to touch down in Michigan, rest up and game plan.
The Tigers, they know, will be no easier to defeat. And Comerica Park, one of the game's foremost pitcher's parks, will make it no easier for them to hit balls over fences.
Their saving grace, then, may be in knowing they don't have to.