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FLA@NYM: Reyes handles a tough hop in the seventh

NEW YORK -- In his first game back from a three-week stay on the disabled list, Jose Reyes finished 1-for-4 on Monday with a fielding error. And still, his presence affected the Mets for the better.

Shifted back down in the lineup to accommodate Reyes, Angel Pagan drove in the go-ahead run in Game 2 of Monday's doubleheader, keying a sweep of the Marlins at Citi Field. Shifted to second base for the first time in more than a year, Ruben Tejada contributed two hits and two runs. With a more complete defensive alignment behind him, Dillon Gee submitted his second strong start in three tries.

Pieced together, it formed a 5-1 victory with Reyes' fingerprints all over it.

"He's the catalyst of this club," manager Terry Collins said. "Make no mistake."

Though much pregame fuss was made over the return of Reyes, who resumed his quest for the National League batting title after spending three weeks on the DL with a strained left hamstring, the shortstop made little tangible impact on Monday's game. Instead, batting fifth in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 6, it was Pagan who lifted the Mets with a game-winning bloop single in the sixth inning, spoiling what had been a well-pitched game for Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco. Two batters later, Willie Harris gave the Mets an insurance run with his ground-ball single to center.

Reyes -- who popped out twice and hit a weak nubber in his first three at-bats -- finally made his presence felt in the seventh inning, diving to rob Emilio Bonifacio of a hit. After temporarily falling out of the National League batting average lead for the first time since June, Reyes then singled in his final at-bat to retake the top spot, before David Wright drove him home with a double to plate the Mets' fourth run.

"Leadoff is a big job," Collins said. "That's a tough job to ignite your offense, and Angel did an absolutely great job of doing it, but this guy, in my opinion, might be the best in the league. I know when he gets his stroke back, it's going to change the look of the team."

Already, Reyes' presence has done the trick. Also accommodating his teammate on Monday was Tejada, who started at second base for the first time since last season. A natural shortstop who subbed at the position in Reyes' absence, Tejada finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored, making a barehanded grab of Nick Evans' errant throw in the field. Though Collins said before the game that he plans on splitting time at second base the rest of the season between Tejada and Justin Turner, Tejada may eventually see that playing time skewed in his favor.

He may even steal a few starts down the stretch this season, given Collins' inclination to rest Reyes regularly. Though player and manager have not mapped out a specific plan to limit Reyes' at-bats in an effort to avoid re-injury, they have promised to meet every afternoon to discuss the state of his hamstrings.

"We need to wait and see," Reyes said. "I love to be on the field. I love to play every day. But I have to understand that I've had the same problem twice this year. I don't want to have any more issues with my leg. If I have to take a day off, I'll take it."

If Reyes -- an impending free agent -- returns to the Mets next season, the health of his legs will be critical to the their success. That made Collins more than merely an interested observer when Reyes sprinted in an attempt to catch Bryan Peterson's bloop single in the second inning Monday, and when he geared up to full speed trying to beat out his nubber in the third.

"I can't worry every time he takes the field that he's going to blow it out," Collins said. "I would be absolutely crazy. He is what he is. He does what he does. He prepares himself."

So too did the rest of the Mets in sweeping the twin bill against the Marlins, after being swept in each of their previous two doubleheaders this season. After R.A. Dickey fired seven shutout innings in Game 1, Gee held the Marlins to six hits over six innings in the nightcap, striking out six and allowing his only run on Greg Dobbs' solo homer. Capping both halves of the sweep was newly minted closer Bobby Parnell, who worked with a two-run cushion in Game 1 and a four-run margin in Game 2.

What the Mets hope is that Reyes will give Parnell, Gee and other Mets pitchers even more support in September. That much is no guarantee -- Reyes did, after all, struggle upon his return from a separate hamstring injury earlier this summer, re-injuring his leg before rediscovering his stroke. Now, in his words, Reyes needs to regain some confidence. The health is already there.

"That's the good news," Reyes said. "The other stuff's going to come later."

If there was any doubt as to his health, desire or general well-being, Reyes nixed it when Collins approached him Monday afternoon to ask how his leg was feeling. The shortstop responded by looking his manager in the eye and saying, quite bluntly, that he was "ready to play baseball."

"That," Collins said, "pretty much describes how he is."

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