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Church comes through in the clutch

Church comes through in the clutch

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NEW YORK -- A single back up the middle to plate an insurance run doesn't make the headlines or even jump out of the agate type of the box score.

But Ryan Church's RBI base hit off left-hander J.P. Howell with two outs in the eighth inning gave the Mets a much-needed insurance run in their 5-3 win over the Rays on Friday.

It wasn't the biggest hit of the game, or even the most important. But if the Mets want to get back to playing winning baseball after a tepid first half of June, they'll need that kind of clutch hit the most.

With a bullpen that has become more adventurous than automatic, the Mets could sorely use late-inning offense -- something that has been missing for much of the season.

"That was huge, especially against the lefty," Church said. "In that situation, I've had times where I've gotten guys on base and haven't gotten through with the hit with two outs. It's a great confidence-booster."

The Mets have shown more confidence in Church over the last week, as he has now started seven consecutive games in right field. His spot in the everyday lineup was further solidified when the team sent outfielder Fernando Martinez to Triple-A Buffalo before the game.

In those seven starts, Church is 9-for-28, with seven RBIs.

"If you go out there and know you're going to get the at-bats, and not worry about going 0-for-3 and not being in the next day, it just helps your confidence," he said. "The more at-bats you get, the more pitches you see, the more you can get in a groove."

Hitting in the six-hole, Church also provides the Mets with more depth, and gives Gary Sheffield or David Wright some protection in the lineup. Since Carlos Delgado was injured on May 11, the Mets' lineup has often been a three- or even two-man show.

The Mets' other peripheral hitters also contributed in the win over the Rays, with Brian Schneider hitting his first home run of the season -- a three-run shot over the 415-foot mark in right-center field -- and Daniel Murphy collecting three hits for the second time in three nights.

"Ryan can add some length to our lineup along with some power," manager Jerry Manuel said. "He's a guy that can really take us to another level."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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