Mets use small ball to squash Pirates

Mets use small ball to squash Pirates

NEW YORK -- Unable to shoot balls over Citi Field's outfield wall with any consistency, the Mets on Saturday reverted to a more traditional strategy: they hit singles. Lots of singles.

Their resulting 10-1 victory over the Pirates was certainly not as remarkable as its implications: it marked the sixth straight win for the Mets, vaulting them into first place in the National League East for the first time since Opening Day after the Phillies fell to the Braves, 6-2, at Citizens Bank Park.

"That's the way we're supposed to play," shortstop Jose Reyes said.

According to whom, exactly, Reyes did not mention. But the Mets all lauded each other after a six-single attack led to five runs in the fourth inning, effectively ending this game before the sun began to sink. Reyes capped that rally with a two-run knock off Pirates starter Paul Maholm, echoing the RBI hits of Fernando Tatis, Gary Sheffield and David Wright before him.

The 10 runs marked the most the Mets had scored all season.

If not remarkable, that's at least noteworthy for a team that still greatly resembles the 2006 Mets club that boasted a strikingly good offense. The players have scarcely changed, yet their production has waned in each of the ensuing two seasons.

This year, through 28 games, the Mets ranked ninth in the NL in runs, after they placed in the top four in each of the past three seasons.

Knowing that, Saturday's 10-run attack seemed both unsurprising and unexpected. And it led to some beating of chests.

"I think we can be better," Reyes said.

Any particular reason why?

"Look around the room," Sheffield said.

Sheffield was referring to Reyes, one of the game's greatest all-around talents, to Wright, one of its foremost power hitters, and to Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, two of the greatest Puerto Rican-born hitters to play the game.

Forced to take stock of those players and others, bench coach Sandy Alomar said simply: "We have the ingredients."

And on Saturday, those ingredients began to bake. Alomar was the man charged with leading the Mets against the Pirates, after Major League Baseball handed manager Jerry Manuel a one-game suspension for bumping an umpire on Thursday. And he was aided not only by a resurgent offense, but by a pitcher, John Maine, who seemed intent on being somewhat resurgent himself.

Despite a pregame bullpen session that Maine classified as "the worst one I've thrown all year," and despite a feel for the ball that was equally "awful," Maine managed to gut out six innings of one-run ball. He struck out three, walked two and allowed three hits, all on a typically inefficient 102 pitches.

"But they just hit the balls right at people," Maine said. "I got lucky with that. The offense did a great job, there were some good plays behind me, and the next thing you know, the game's over."

It remains to be seen whether the offense that showed up to Citi Field on Saturday was exceptional or merely an exception. Of the 17 hits produced by the Mets, only four went for extra bases. The Mets were hitting the ball hard, though not particularly far -- which isn't necessarily a bad strategy at cavernous Citi Field.

Before the game, Manuel spoke of the importance of his pitchers using Citi's deep dimensions to their advantage. Perhaps his hitters had shuffled into the back of the room and were silently taking notes.

Beltran hit a home run, his team's 12th in 15 games at Citi Field. But Reyes' three-hit day came courtesy of three well-placed singles, each of them knocking in a run. Sheffield earned praise for two base hits and a sliding grab in right field. Beltran's homer and Wright's triple were the team's only run-scoring hits that went for extra bases.

"This is not about hitting home runs," Beltran said. "This is about winning ballgames. We're happy when we're winning ballgames."

And so they were quite happy Saturday, winning a sixth straight game for the first time since last August. They've done it against a cross-section of NL teams, from the good (the Phillies) to the questionable (the Braves) and now the mediocre (the Pirates). But the fact is that they've done it.

They received contributions from Reyes and Wright and Delgado and Beltran, and even from Ken Takahashi, who perhaps played his way into a greater role with two more scoreless innings. They did it in front of 39,769 fans, and they did it with apparent ease.

"We're pitching good, we're hitting well, we're playing good defense," Reyes said. "That's the way we have to play to continue to win."

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