PHILADELPHIA -- About two and a half hours before the first pitch of the series opener between the Mets and Phillies, manager Terry Collins assembled the team's hitters in a dining area adjacent to the main visitor's clubhouse of Citizens Bank Park. Though Collins was mostly pleased with the club's offensive approach through five games, he wanted his hitters to be more aggressive earlier in counts. Too often, Collins believed, the Mets were letting hittable pitches glide by for strikes.
The Mets absorbed their manager's message and applied it. Facing Cliff Lee, one of the league's best and most consistent pitchers, the Mets twice jumped on mistakes in a 5-2 victory over the Phillies. Jason Bay homered. Scott Hairston homered. And it was R.A. Dickey, not Lee, who furthered his consistency over the past 11 months, submitting his 14th consecutive quality start dating back to last season.
"You cannot let good pitchers dominate you," Collins said. "They're going to get ahead of you. That's their whole game plan. So if they throw something you can hit, you'd better hit it."
It was Bay who applied the message first, after Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy led off the game with back-to-back doubles (on 1-1 and 2-0 counts, respectively). Lee likewise fell behind Bay with two balls and a strike before watching him crush a fastball over the wall in right-center.
It was Bay's first home run since Sept. 8, and it came on what he called "literally the only good pitch I got from [Lee] all night."
"The way things have been going, I normally would have missed it or taken it," Bay said. "It's nice to, at least for one day, one at-bat, say, 'Hey, we can build off that.'"
The Mets were eager to build off anything on Friday, considering they were facing one of the game's best pitchers without the injured David Wright. So it came as additional relief when, four innings later, Hairston yanked his own solo shot to left.
On the first pitch of that at-bat, Hairston had no intention of swinging. It was a ball. On the second pitch, he was caught off-guard and not yet set in his stance. It was a strike.
"But I was ready on that third one," Hairston said.
The result was the type of offensive showing the Mets have never put up against Lee, who had not previously allowed them a homer in 21 innings.
It was, in short, all the offense that Dickey needed.
"I made two big mistakes that ended up being home runs, and that's the difference in the game right there," Lee said. "If I could take those two pitches back, I would."
Since last May 15, only five pitchers in baseball have produced a lower ERA than Dickey's 2.64, and two are the reigning Cy Young Award winners of their respective leagues -- Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Justin Verlander of the Tigers. One is Roy Halladay, who is on -- if not atop -- the short list of best pitchers alive. Another is Jered Weaver, who has ranked in the top five in Cy Young voting for two consecutive seasons. And the last is Lee, who had outpitched all of them until the Mets tagged him for four runs on Friday.
Though the Phillies had little problem rapping out hits off Dickey, touching him for seven singles, one double and a Freddy Galvis home run, Dickey never allowed a backbreaking hit in seven innings. Seven strikeouts and two double plays allowed him to neutralize the Phillies, who were playing without injured sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
"Cliff Lee is one of the best," Dickey said. "In my opinion, he outpitched me in a lot of ways. But we were able to make the big pitch tonight, and because of that we were able to minimize the damage and keep some of the guys from crossing the plate."
To be certain, there is still plenty of concern for the Mets. After homering, for example, Bay struck out twice and produced a weak ground ball in his final three at-bats. Lucas Duda finished 0-for-3 and is now 0-for-14 in four games dating back to Monday. Ike Davis also went 0-for-3, running his personal slump to 1-for-23. Daniel Murphy let a ball scoot under his glove in the ninth inning, allowing the second Phillies run to score.
Most vexing of all, the Mets may need to weather another week and a half without Wright, whose fractured right pinkie has not healed as quickly as he hoped. Offense will not always come easily to a team so dependent on its best slugger.
Then again, the Mets like their chances if they stay aggressive.
"It's a great win," Dickey said. "Any time you can win a game against these guys at their park with one of their better pitchers going, with one of your guys out, it's a real pick-me-up."