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Must C Crushed: Hairston goes to the second deck

NEW YORK -- The Mets had plenty of reasons to believe the odds were stacked against them in Saturday afternoon's game against the Phillies at Citi Field.

Hoping to claw their way back into the playoff hunt before the non-waiver Trade Deadline and still reeling from a 7-2 defeat to the Phillies the evening before, the Mets learned that their depleted lineup would have to face the fearsome Cole Hamels without its best remaining hitter, Carlos Beltran, who was sidelined with flu-like symptoms.

Against Hamels, the Mets did not start a player who began the day with a .350 on-base percentage or an .800 on-base plus slugging percentage. Between them, Saturday's lineup had hit 22 home runs all season.

But every time the Mets have been counted out this season -- between beginning the season 5-13 and watching their best hitters make their way to the disabled list -- they have come back with just enough life to keep them in the discussion.

Beltran's replacement in right field and the third spot in the lineup, Scott Hairston homered and set career highs with three hits and five RBIs, as the Mets cruised past the Phillies, 11-2.

"That's why I put the stuff in Carlos' coffee yesterday," Collins joked after the game. "I knew that was going to happen."

Collins would go on to say that Hairston would have been somewhere in the lineup even if Beltran hadn't been sick, a result of Hairston's track record of success against Hamels. Prior to Saturday, Hairston had been 6-for-17 with three home runs and two doubles against the man who came into the day with the second-best ERA in the National League.

Hamels retired the first two batters he faced on six pitches without throwing a ball, but Hairston hit a line drive to left field and stretched it into a double. Daniel Murphy then brought him home almost by accident, hitting a popup to the right of the pitcher's mound that fell to the ground between first baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley. Hairston, hustling from second on contact, came around to score.

"You have to hustle on that play in case the ball drops," Hairston said. "You don't want to be 'Cadillac-ing' around the bases and have the ball drop and then be stuck at third. You have to continue to run until the play's over."

For his part, Mets starter Jon Niese turned in one of his finest games of the season. Niese stayed away from the curveball he'd been using more frequently in recent outings, opting instead to mix his fastball and cutter to get ahead of Phillies hitters while using his changeup as his off-speed weapon. Niese allowed two runs, one earned, in seven innings. He struck out six batters and walked one, giving up six hits on the day.

"We came out today, we played very, very well. What we've got to do now is we've got to apply it tomorrow. This is just one game. And they're going to come out tomorrow and get after us."
-- Mets manager Terry Collins

With the Mets holding a 1-0 lead in the third, Niese found himself in a spot of trouble after a fielding error by shortstop Ruben Tejada put runners on first and second with the dangerous Utley at the plate. Down 3-1 in the count, Niese got Utley to roll over a changeup for a 4-3 putout that ended the threat.

"He threw the ball really well today," Murphy said. "He was as good as I've seen him, and I think we all know that's a pretty good lineup they've got over there. He was able to really kind of keep them at bay a little bit, and each time he did, it gave us a chance to extend the lead."

The Mets would do just that in the third inning when Hairston hit a scorcher just inside the third-base bag to drive in two runs and give the Mets a 3-0 advantage. New York then broke the game open with a four-run fifth inning that was highlighted by Murphy's solo homer and a Nick Evans RBI triple that chased Hamels from the game.

The seven earned runs charged to Hamels were the most he had given up this season, topping the six he allowed against the Mets on April 5.

"It's been a coin flip," Hamels said of his performances against the Mets. "When you play a team so often, that's bound to happen. The Mets have always been a good team. It hasn't shown in the records, but they have really good players."

The Phillies avoided the shutout with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh, only to watch Hairston smash a three-run shot to the second deck in left field in the bottom of the inning. Hairston finished the day with a career-high five RBIs and a season-high three hits.

"We talked yesterday about guys stepping up when somebody's not around," Collins said. "If that's not an example of it, I don't know what is. I was really happy for him."

If the Mets are to preserve their hopes of October baseball, Collins knows it is going to take more than just one instance of an unlikely hero keying an offensive outburst.

"We came out today, we played very, very well," Collins said. "What we've got to do now is we've got to apply it tomorrow. This is just one game. And they're going to come out tomorrow and get after us.

"When you're talking about the middle of July, this is crunch time. This is when you gut it out." Comments