The 41-year-old Conine, who won World Series championships with Florida in 1997 and 2003, played in seven of the Mets' first 13 games since he was acquired on Aug. 20, hitting .250 (3-for-12) with a double and two RBIs. He logged his first hit with a pinch-hit single in his New York debut during a 7-5 loss to San Diego on Aug. 22.
The Mets were 6-7 in Conine's first 13 games with the team and lost a game off the lead they enjoyed over the Phillies in the National League East, but the 17-year veteran still was enjoying his return to an actual pennant race.
"It's different in every way," Conine said of moving over from the Reds, who spent much of his time with the team occupying last place in the NL Central. "The games mean a lot more, and you can't get much different than the New York atmosphere. It's totally different. It's madness. It's fun."
One of the visitors' clubhouse attendants walked up and congratulated Conine for gaining several games in the standings.
"About 15," Conine responded, breaking out into another smile. "Not a bad move."
The Mets handle the pressure of being in first place in New York well, Conine said.
"Everybody knows what's at stake," said Conine, who went into Monday's series opener in Cincinnati hitting a combined .264 with six home runs and 34 RBIs between the Reds and Mets. "They know how to play the game. They play hard. It's a great atmosphere. The chemistry's great."
The experience isn't leading Conine to have second thoughts about his future, he said. He still plans to retire at the end of the season.
"It's a great way to go out," he said.
Orlando out: One turn wasn't enough for El Duque.
Mets right-hander Orlando Hernandez will miss at least one more start while trying to get over the sore tendon in his right foot that cost him his turn on Monday.
"I just talked with El Duque," Mets manager Willie Randolph said before Monday's game. "He's fine, but we're going to skip a turn. He's feeling better. We don't want to push him."
The 37-year-old hasn't pitched since lasting a season-low three innings and giving up six hits and five runs in New York's 11-10 loss at Philadelphia last Thursday. He avoided getting the decision and is 9-4 with a 3.32 ERA in 23 starts this season.
Right-hander Mike Pelfrey will start in Hernandez's place Friday against Houston in the opener of a three-game series against the Astros that kicks off a nine-game homestand.
Despite allowing one run and one hit and setting a career high with seven strikeouts in six innings in the Mets' 5-1 win over the Braves at Atlanta on Saturday, Pelfrey wasn't guaranteed to get another start until Hernandez was scratched.
Pelfrey used his heavy sinking fastball to retire seven of the first eight Braves batters on groundouts.
A win would allow the 6-foot-7 Pelfrey, 23, to match the two he logged in four starts with the Mets last season, his first in the Majors.
Tug Who? Mets vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz noticed the country music video on the visitors' clubhouse television and asked, "Who's that?"
A writer responded, "If you should know anyone, it's him."
The singer was Tim McGraw, the son of the late Tug McGraw, who was the closer for the 1973 Mets team that beat Cincinnati in a passionate League Championship Series before losing to Oakland in a seven-game World Series.
"He didn't do anything for us," joked Horwitz, who's been with the Mets since 1980.
Coming up: Left-hander Oliver Perez (12-9, 3.39 ERA) will try to maintain his career effectiveness against the Reds when he starts the second game of the three-game series Tuesday. Perez is 7-3 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 career starts against the Reds, including New York's 5-2 win at Shea Stadium on July 15. The Reds will counter with Matt Belisle (7-8, 5.33).