Swagger is back for sprinting Mets
Division leaders increase lead with big bats and great start
NEW YORK -- With first place in their back pocket, the Mets just wanted to run with it. No sense in living with the mindset that it can be taken back. Instead, sprint like the race is always theirs to take.
Jose Reyes zoomed around second base and didn't look back in the fourth inning. His feet were churning so fast, they almost skipped off the dirt track as he power-boosted through the bag and raced toward third.
The Mets have always said they could keep pace with the winners. That's been the only real constant in a season that's lacked consistency. It's just that now the product is racing around corners, catapulted by the Phillies' loss and their own 7-2 win Friday over the Cardinals, pushing the Mets' divisional lead to two games.
Like his team, Reyes just kept going. And as he slid into third, charging the Mets' early lead with two more runs, Reyes showed that it's a disregard for what's behind you and the reckless charge ahead that resembles a first-place team. He almost rounded third on the overthrow, catching himself getting a little too greedy and sprawling back to the bag, his head flush against the bag.
He was a footloose cog that doesn't care where it came from but only where it's going -- and what more it can get. Phillies? Who are the Phillies? A day after claiming the top spot from a team manager Jerry Manuel admitted his group had its eyes locked onto, the Mets now want only to run forward.
"It's about us looking ahead and not in that rear view and taking care of business," third baseman David Wright said. "We can't worry about what's going on behind us, and we can only take care of what we do. And if we take care of business, good things will happen."
Three wins in a row, all against top National League teams, and the names haven't changed. If anything, a few have been subtracted.
But Carlos Delgado has reclaimed his old swing along with the admitted cool-factor of batting cleanup, smoking a two-run home run over the right-center-field wall in the fifth inning. And as if his average was always this respectable, Delgado snapped back at a reporter who asked him to explain his recent resurgence. "Why? ... Is this going to be an everyday occurrence?" he joked.
Endy Chavez, an outfielder heralded for his defense, touched the bases regularly with a 4-for-5 night from the plate. Add that to the already consistent bats of Wright, Reyes, and, despite the absence of Carlos Beltran's offense, the Mets are still rolling.
"There's no more tomorrow. We have to go now," Chavez said.
They act as if there is no yesterday, either. When Mike Pelfrey was asked to remember his last loss, he contorted his lips and squinted as if those memories were lost. "Was it against Florida?" Pelfrey asked, truly unsure. It was, in fact, May 26 against the Marlins that the 24-year-old pitcher dropped to 2-6.
Now he has won seven out of his last eight starts, allowing one run over seven innings Friday. He could easily take credit for his own success, but instead deferred praise to his teammates, the same players who struggled to drive in runs earlier in the season.
What he did say resembled a hard self-critic. His pitches weren't breaking as well as he would like, Pelfrey said. He discussed a fastball -- a pitch that other Mets were describing as unhittable -- and pared his success down to nothing more than better location. Run support helps, too.
It's with the assurance that this winning thing isn't so new and special that he shrugs it all off, but Manuel has watched with great enjoyment as Pelfrey has morphed into one of the most feared young arms in the game. Actually -- scratch that -- he's always been that good.
"Everybody, regardless of how good they are or how good they say they are, in the Major Leagues, if you can have some success, it helps tremendously," Manuel said. "We all know how he struggled kind of early, but we saw good stuff the entire time."
Starting pitching has been a mainstay during Manuel's tenure -- producing a 22-12 record under his leadership -- and Pelfrey was the Mets' fifth straight pitcher to go seven or more innings. Duaner Sanchez was the only sorry arm after the game, loading the bases in the ninth and having to be saved by fellow reliever Aaron Heilman.
Manuel's lone moment of fright squashed, he came away from Friday's victory sensing a growing swagger among a group that has always tried to portray such an attitude.
"Well, shoot, in the ninth, when it was 7-1, I didn't like that. It was kind of tight," Manuel kidded. "They feel very good about themselves and they are comfortable."
The only awkward moment of the night might have come when the other Reyes, second baseman Argenis, hit his first career home run in the seventh inning. Under strict orders from Delgado, the bench gave the rookie the silent treatment.
Loose but still focused, the Mets are rolling. And they believe it.
"We hit our stride where we are playing our best baseball," Wright said. "I have said it a million times, but we are confident. We go out there in every game and expect to win. That's a mark of a winning team, a team that goes out there and is surprised to lose and expects to win every day."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.