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Mets' offense returns from hiding

Mets' offense returns from hiding

NEW YORK -- And in the Mets' second inning: six runs, nine hits, no errors, three left on base and all sorts of positive implications. Not that anyone cared that much, or even noted, what the Mets accomplished against the Nationals in the second on Sunday; it registered as merely another victory that would go virtually unnoticed.

What did it really matter that their offense had finally gushed, and that their victory total would increase for the 97th time? The race was over, and the regular season would be too in a matter of hours. But in the visiting clubhouse then, and again in the Mets' home clubhouse on Tuesday morning, it mattered. And the Mets believe -- hope -- it will matter again on Wednesday when they bat against Derek Lowe and begin their push to shove the Dodgers out of the postseason.

"When we score early," Paul Lo Duca said, "we're a different team."

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In this case, different is better.

And given the developments of the past week and, in particular, Tuesday, better is needed. With their starting pitching in remarkable disarray, the Mets need as much offense -- early and/or late -- as they can get.

The second inning on Sunday suggested that they still have the touch.

Almost immediately after their raucous clinching of the National League Eastern Division championship, the Mets began sleepwalking through their schedule, a downshift they now acknowledge. They awakened last week, but even when they won the third game of their series in Atlanta on Thursday and the first two weekend games in D.C., they didn't do what they usually do. They hadn't put their unmistakable Mets '06 imprint on a game.

Then they ran off six runs on nine hits in what seemed like four minutes on Sunday. And it seemed like everything was right again -- the absence of Pedro Martinez notwithstanding.

"We kind of came out of hiding today," Cliff Floyd said on Sunday. "We got our feet under us again."

Not everything is all right now, of course. Orlando Hernandez, Martinez's Game 1 understudy, came up lame as well Tuesday and knocked the Mets off their feet for at least one afternoon with a "Are you kidding?" and major what-ifs. The first-pitch responsibility may fall to one of three: El Duque, John Maine or Dave Williams. And more responsibility seemingly falls to the Mets' offense as well.

With the most critical element of the postseason package undermined by injury and the absence of Steve Trachsel, the Mets' offense needs to score early and often.

It needs a nine-hit, six-run inning for its own sake, to overcome the October inertia that confronts each postseason team, and it needs to score to reduce the onus on the diminished rotation generally and alleviate whatever anxiety develops for whomever the starter is.

"We need to put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard, and it would be nice to put 'em up early," Floyd said. "We had to do that anyway before El Duque got hurt. So nothing's changed."

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But of course it has. And now the team that led the National League in first-inning runs (130) needs more of that early, and often, elixir. At the same time, though, the Mets need to find the difficult-to-achieve emotional balance -- to be, as Yankees manager Joe Torre says, intense without being tense.

"The worst thing we can do is put extra pressure on ourselves," Carlos Delgado said after he learned of Hernandez's injury. "We had, over the course of the year, some injuries. We were able to overcome those. Right now, we just have to play our game, because we can't pitch and hit at the same time. So when we're hitting, we're just gonna hit. When we're on the field, we're just gonna try to pitch and catch the ball."

The Mets hardly are unfamiliar with the idea of responding. The second inning on Sunday was an example.

"I think deep inside, we knew that we hadn't been playing well," second baseman Chris Woodward said. "On Sunday, we had our shot almost right in front of our face, and we said, 'We've got one game left before they matter. Step it up.'"

They stepped in unison in that inning, putting the game away -- as if that mattered -- and revitalizing themselves. The rally was a can of Popeye's spinach for their confidence, evidence that it was still there.

"No one said anything before the game, we didn't have a meeting," first baseman Julio Franco said. "We just went out and hit."

And reasserted themselves -- to themselves.

Six runs. Hardly a big deal. The Mets had scored 11 runs in one inning, seven in two others and six on five other occasions. But in none of those innings had they amassed nine hits. But there they were Sunday, having their way against poor Ramon Ortiz. Patience, measured, purposeful swings and results comparable to those Mets in June when they padded a lead they had built in April.

It was more than muscle-flexing.

"I think you can say we got our aggressiveness back," Lo Duca said. "We got ourselves going."

The players who had spent two weeks denying they had turned it off, seemingly turned it on, and without input from Delgado and Jose Reyes, who took Sunday as a day of rest.

"We played the way you're supposed to play," is how Tom Glavine put it.

He was quite encouraged by what he had witnessed. "We've been able to do that this year ... not every time, but when we've put our minds to it, we came up pretty big."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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