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Mets' new lineup locks down win over Braves

Mets' new lineup locks down win over Braves

NEW YORK -- "Old, weird Jerry Manuel decisions," characterized as that by the old, weird Jerry Manuel, had the desired effect on Friday night. With their batting order revamped by their finagling manager, the Mets scored runs in ... well, not in a hurry, and not in bunches and not in abundance, either. Nor did they score early or in all that many innings. But they scored enough of them to beat the Braves. And that was the ultimate objective, anyway. Right?

"We won, 5-2. So it was genius," Jason Bay said.

And he meant it. Whatever works always is the best way to do it. Right? It's a variation of the theme of "Nothing succeeds like success." And when success isn't as commonplace as a team would like to be, anything that occurs in a victory is an indication of unparalleled wisdom.

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And so it was on Friday in the Big Citi. After 14 months of pondering, Manuel finally changed Jose Reyes' position in the batting order from leadoff to third; he also pushed David Wright from third to fifth, all with the intention of making life less challenging for Bay. And what happened was this: Reyes produced a double and a triple, Wright drove in two runs -- one with a monster sacrifice fly -- Bay tripled and lined out, the Mets won for the fourth time in five games, and everyone went home content and intent on sleeping fast and giving it another go on Saturday afternoon. Genius, indeed.

So smart was Manuel that he even had Ike Davis batting sixth, so it was the rookie who was swinging in the fifth inning when losing pitcher Kenshin Kawakami threw a too-good 3-2 pitch. The barrel of Davis' bat made big league contact for what he claimed was the first time in his five-game career and produced his first home run, a monster shot over the bullpens beyond the fence in right-center field, just short of the Shea bridge.

Throughout the game, the Mets made big-time contact that, were the temperature higher or the ballpark smaller, would have produced "more than five runs" in the estimation of Jeff Francoeur, who hit two long fly balls, one worth a double, the other worth double frustration.

When Francoeur bumped into COO Jeff Wilpon later on, he offered a two-word commentary that drew an understanding smile: "Nice field."

The long balls were part of the master plan that Manuel implemented because the middle of the Mets' order had sagged through most of the team's first 16 games. Through Thursday, 11 of the other 15 National League teams had scored more often than the Mets, all but one had higher slugging percentages and batting averages, all but two had higher on-base percentages and all had struck out less often.

Now, with the rotation and bullpen performing at levels that exceed March expectations, a productive offense will afford the Mets a chance to be a balanced and successful team. Indeed, a .500 record will be within their reach when they and the Braves reconvene in the daylight on Saturday. Chances are the old, weird one won't vary his batting order too much when Jair Jurrjens is the opposing pitcher. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right?

Whatever weirdness truly existed might have affected other parts of the program on this night. The Mets removed their starter pitcher in the fourth inning because his "other" arm hurt -- how often does that occur? -- and they scored a run after the infield fly rule had been invoked in the seventh. And, for a change, Chipper Jones did more to help them than hurt them. Imagine that.

The starter in question is the bedeviled John Maine. Decidedly right-handed, Maine was removed with a runner on base and two out in the fourth inning because he developed muscle spasms in his left elbow. The spasms caused considerable pain and, Maine said, prohibited him from pulling down his left arm as he delivered a pitch, thereby diminishing his velocity.

Understandably dejected, Maine said, "It's one thing after another. I can't get going."

Maine in winless for 2010, with an 8.64 ERA -- down from 10.38 -- in four starts. His longest workday has been five innings.

His elbow began to lock on him in the third as he struck out phenom Jason Heyward for the second time. By the fourth, it was saying "no mas," and Manuel seconded that emotion.

The Mets' prognosis for Maine, who experienced this same problem in 2008, is day to day.

Manuel summoned Hisanori Takahashi, who struck out seven in a three-inning audition to be Maine's understudy if the elbow problem persists beyond the weekend. Takahashi gained his first big league victory and -- ta-da -- his first big league hit.

Takahashi's single came three batters after Davis' Delgado-esque drive. So trainer Mike Herbst held two souvenir balls in the dugout. One couldn't have been mistaken for the other -- the one Davis drove some 450 feet must have been flat on one side.

"Once a game," Davis said, "you like to get one on the barrel. I hadn't. It felt good to do it. Awesome."

Successive triples by Reyes and Bay and a to-the-wall sacrifice fly by Wright produced two runs in the sixth, the final inning for Kawakami (0-3). That inning also saw Jones make the first of his two errors and one of the Braves' four. But that one had minimal impact. That wasn't the case an inning later, when he dropped a ball already ruled an infield fly.

The Mets had Angel Pagan on second base and Luis Castillo on first with one out in the seventh when Reyes lofted a pop that could have been caught easily by Jones but didn't have to be. When Jones dropped the ball and it rolled away from him, Pagan and Castillo advanced one base each. And when catcher Brian McCann inexplicably threw to ball to first base -- Reyes already had been ruled out -- Pagan noticed the plate undefended and sprinted home for one run. A run-scoring single by Wright followed.

McCann later explained that he was ignorant of the rule, as Pagan had suspected. Pagan exploited the mistake, making an aggressive sprint that served both the team and himself well.

"I thought that was a big run for us after they scored the previous inning," Pagan said.

And it was a bigger run for Pagan, so put upon last season because of baserunning mistakes.

"It made me feel really good to do that," he said. "I wanted to do something. And then David gave us a thee-run lead. Big plays."

The additional runs made for less Mets angst in the ninth when Frankie Rodriguez put two of his first three batters on base and threw a wild pitch. But he struck out his final two -- Mets pitchers struck out 12 all together -- and earned his second save in two nights, his second save of the season.

Then he and everyone else shook Manuel's hand. It was the manager's doing. Right?

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

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