Big first propels Mets to eighth straight

Big first propels Mets to eighth straight

PHILADELPHIA -- They prefer to be called the first-place Mets, and understandably so. These days, though, they can travel under an alias -- the first-inning Mets. It hardly is a pseudonym as the Phillies learned in three games in Citizens Bank Park this week. Give the Mets a first inning, and watch them fill it up.

The first-place Mets scored in the first inning in each game of the series against their closest pursuers and led for 25 of the 27 innings in a lopsided sweep that extended their lead to 9 1/2 games -- a season high -- in the National League East and their winning streak to eight games. They struck first, they struck often. The Phillies struck out.

"When you're up first, you might as well score first," Carlos Delgado said. "Why not?" Each first inning was a pin in the Phillies' balloon, the series was something more dramatic and damaging.

"Our mindset," Paul Lo Duca said, "was to try to bury them. And we accomplished that -- in the series and in each game. We did everything there was to do."

It was everything the Mets wanted in a series ... and more.

"The best way to end our trip," Lo Duca said.

The sweep, completed Thursday with a 5-4 victory, left the Phillies frustrated, deflated and resting at the point of mediocrity -- .500. The Mets didn't bother looking back. Even if the Phillies didn't break this week, the Mets won't see them again until the first weekend of August.

More to the point, the sweep and the stunningly successful, 10-game, nine-victory, three-city trip buoyed the Mets' confidence, left them almost giddy and created more markers in their march toward what manager Willie Randolph calls "a special season."

The road trip, to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia, marked the second time a Mets team has won nine of 10 road games. The other instance was 20 years ago in a World Series championship season. The Mets also have won eight straight on the road, an achievement accomplished in their history by only the 1988 team, the last Mets division winner. They are in position to win nine straight and become the first Mets team since 2000 to do so. The 2000 team is the last Mets club to play in a postseason.

What the Mets found most encouraging though wasn't stepping where other championship Mets teams had stepped but how they had performed in what some had considered a critical series. "The first-inning thing does make it easier."

The Mets have scored in the first inning in eight straight games, something only two teams had done since 1900, the 1913 Cubs and 1938 Philadelphia A's. They scored in the first in nine of 10 games in the trip, totaling 25 runs.

They scored once in the first inning of the first game against the Phillies on Tuesday night, fell behind in the second, regained the lead in the third and won, 9-7. They scored twice in the first inning on Wednesday night, led throughout and won, 9-3. And Thursday afternoon, they scored four runs in the first inning -- three on a home run by David Wright -- and held on.

Jose Reyes singled, leading off the game against losing pitcher Cory Lidle (4-6), and scored when Endy Chavez, batting second, doubled to left-center. Lidle retired Carlos Beltran, but walked Carlos Delgado before Wright hit his 14th home run, his third in three games and his fifth against the Phillies this season.

The Mets didn't score again until the sixth when Beltran's sacrifice fly scored Reyes. The RBI was Beltran's 16th on the trip.

That run gave winning pitcher Steve Trachsel (4-4) a 5-2 lead. The Phillies had scored twice in the second, the first on Pat Burrell's 17th home run and the second on Sal Fasano's two-out double that drove in Ryan Howard from first base.

Burrell hit his 18th homer -- his fourth against the Mets this season -- in the fifth to reduce the deficit to one. The home run was his 35th against the Mets. Barry Bonds has the most home runs against the Mets, among active players, with 37. And Chipper Jones has 35, too. But Bonds (802) and Jones (575) have significantly more at-bats against the Mets than Burrell (392).

Trachsel, followed by Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner (14th save), pitched six innings and allowed four runs and six hits.

Randolph was delighted by the work of his now-rested and recently more effective relievers. He had rested Lo Duca and Jose Valentin's 36-year-old legs. He had afforded Ramon Castro, Eli Marrero and Chris Woodward some needed playing time and eked a victory out of Trachsel. And his team is in first place.

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