NEW YORK -- New York Mets manager Terry Collins whispered as he entered an interview room before Saturday afternoon's game that with right fielder Carlos Beltran suffering from the flu and a high fever and not even expected at the ballpark -- much less stationed in right field -- this might be a glimpse of life without the slugger.
So where do the Mets sign up?
Sporting a lineup that did not exactly instill fear -- the starting nine entered with 22 combined home runs this season -- the Mets nonetheless moved to a game over .500 by routing All-Star Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies. Or, to use general manager Sandy Alderson's guidelines, the Mets remained "relevant" because they own a winning record, now 47-46.
"That's why I put the stuff in Carlos' coffee," Collins joked after the Mets beat the Phillies, 11-2, at Citi Field.
In reality, the victory merely pulled the Mets within 11 games of the first-place Phillies. And Saturday's outcome was immaterial in averting the dismantling that is bound to occur before July 31, with Beltran the most prized piece likely headed out of town.
But Collins indicated before Saturday's game that he was judging the Mets not by their proximity to the Phillies or the wild card-leading Atlanta Braves. Instead, the manager cited a likability factor as being important. In other words: Are fans proud of their players?
"One of the things I want to make sure happens is when our fans leave this ballpark, they want to come back to see us play," Collins said. "Hopefully we're doing that."
By that standard, the Mets clearly have been a success. Sure, Scott Hairston had a monster game in Beltran's spot in right field and the No. 3 hole, producing a career-high five RBIs while continuing his career success against Hamels. But what again demonstrated that these Mets have fight and likability is Hairston scoring from second base with two outs in the first inning when a routine pop-up somehow dropped between Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard.
Had this been the same old Mets, the runner at second base might have presumed the ball would be caught. And the player would have been jogging toward third when the ball dropped, not hustling like Hairston did, which allowed him to score. Third base coach Chip Hale made a point to compliment Hairston after the inning.
"Chip told me he came around third base like it's a groundball base hit," Collins said.
Collins often has complimented his players for stepping up for an absent player or when the chips are otherwise stacked against them. Hairston's effort that inning and his run production overall was only the latest example.
"If that's not an example of it, I don't know what is," the manager said. "I was really happy for him."
Said Hairston: "You have to hustle on that play in case the ball drops. Yeah, it is the big leagues. It doesn't happen often. But it's capable of happening. You don't want to be Cadillac-ing around the bases and have the ball drop and you being stuck at third. You have to continue to run until the play is over."