Again on this evening, the Mets' offense may have been identified as New York Stripped, but with other ingredients added, it got the job done. Thus the Mets' latest Interleague interlude began with a 5-3 victory against the team that has scored more runs than any other team in the game.
With Brian Schneider hitting a three-run homer, Fernando Nieve again providing effective work as a starter, Ryan Church performing splendidly, Daniel Murphy producing more evidence of a personal renaissance, and Sean Green and Francisco Rodriguez providing the final six outs, the Mets won for the 13th time in their 18 most recent home games and the sixth time in 16 games this month.
It was the kind of all-hands-on-deck performance that manager Jerry Manuel has sought during the extended absences of Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes. Schneider's first home run of the season, a rocket into the bullpen in right-center off losing pitcher Andy Sonnanstine in the second inning, made an impact, but the Mets wouldn't have prevailed without the run David Wright doubled home in the third and might not have eased through the ninth if not for the insurance run produced in the eighth by Church's second hit.
And none of those contributions would have been quite so meaningful without Nieve's surprising encore performance and the work of the bullpen. Making his second appearance in the stopgap role, Nieve pitched six innings and surrendered merely three hits, three walks and a run. He has now made two starts, winning both and allowing three runs over 12 2/3 innings.
Nieve has been the revelation that catcher Omir Santos was earlier this season.
"His history hadn't indicated he'd be as good as he's been," Manuel said. "[It's] a tremendous surprise, a pleasant one."
Nieve used his changeup, a pitch he all but abandoned while pitching in relief, to defuse the Rays' offense, which had averaged 5.66 runs per game before Friday. (The Mets now have averaged 4.66 per game.) Tampa Bay produced singles in successive at-bats in the third and a leadoff infield single in the sixth, when they scored their first run on an infield out.
"I was working in the Minor Leagues. ... I was trying to be consistent," said Nieve, who acknowledged that fatigue had prompted him to throw more breaking pitches on Friday night than he had six days earlier, when he beat the Yankees. His command again was better than advertised.
The Rays, who have lost three straight and now have a 14-22 record on the road, scored twice in the seventh off Bobby Parnell, on a double inside third base by B.J. Upton. But after losing by a run on Thursday night, the Mets padded their late lead in the eighth, with Church driving in Carlos Beltran from second base with a well-struck single off reliever J.P. Howell. That the hit came with two outs and against a left-handed pitcher wasn't lost on Manuel, who seems more aware now of what Church can provide.
Church has seven RBIs in his last nine games. On Friday he had two hits and, for the first time in his career, two steals. He also made handsome running catches in right field for the first out in the seventh and ninth innings.
The catches saved Parnell, temporarily, and Rodriguez, finally. K-Rod earned his 18th save with a clean ninth after Green struck three and allowed a walk and a double in the eighth. The strikeouts caught the eye. With Parnell not as effective as he had been, Green seemingly has moved into the final setup role.
Green has been a surprise in two ways -- surprisingly ineffective at first and, more recently, "all we could ask for," Manuel said.
The greatest singular surprise in this one came from Schneider, who hadn't hit a home run since Sept. 18 of last year. He crushed a 2-1 pitch to such a degree that Church was certain that he'd "never hit one like that."
But Schneider reminded his friend of one he had hit into the upper deck in Houston, and the two relived the moment from when they were both with the Nationals.
"I don't hit than many that I can know right away, 'Oh, that's out,' " Schneider said. "But I hit this one good. ... I wish it could count as two. I will hit another one. ... It may not be to that area of the park, but I'll get another.
"And what's the big deal about hitting him so far? I remember reading that Yogi Berra used to get on Mickey Mantle. 'What good is it to hit way over the fence? Mine just get over the fence and count just as much.' I like 'em long -- it feels good. But I'll take 'em at any distance."