Mets juggle contending and contention

NEW YORK -- In an 11-day stretch, the Mets dumped Oliver Perez from the rotation, sent Jonathon Niese to the disabled list, had chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon fly to Atlanta to huddle with his subordinates, agitated David Wright by sitting him against his will, and pulled John Maine after five pitches in Washington, which led pitching coach Dan Warthen to call the right-hander a "habitual liar" with respect to his health.

Oh, and closer Francisco Rodriguez and bullpen coach Randy Niemann had a heated exchange during Sunday's rubber-game win against the Yankees.

Yet after Tuesday's 8-0 win against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets moved back to .500 and within four games of first place.

So you wonder this: How is it possible for the feeling of Armageddon and legitimate contention to coexist?

"All year, a lot of people looked at this homestand as big for us, especially with what we've gone through the last couple of weeks," said right-fielder Jeff Francoeur, who had two RBIs Tuesday night. "And we were able to get off to a 3-1 start against two teams that went to the World Series last year."

Said left-fielder Jason Bay: "Maybe we can get our own TV show at some point. There's never a dull moment -- put it that way. I think that's a testament that we are still playing baseball. I mean, there are a lot of distractions. And it happens on every team. We're just kind of fighting through it and winning baseball games, especially at home. We've played very well at home."

The Mets' victory was their most lopsided shutout win against Philadelphia since beating the Phillies 8-0 on April 20, 1986, at Shea Stadium. That day, just like on this one, the Mets' right fielder had two hits and two RBIs. Then, it was Darryl Strawberry, who re-entered the headlines this week when Mets players reportedly complained to PR head Jay Horwitz about Strawberry's outspokenness while addressing the team in Washington last week.

On Tuesday, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Cuban defector Raul Valdes, who both began the season with Triple-A Buffalo, combined on the shutout. Dickey's outing gives the Mets three solid starts from fill-in members of the rotation during the tumult -- two now from Dickey, plus one from Wednesday's scheduled starter against the Phillies, Hisanori Takahashi.

The bats have started to show life, too. Shortstop Jose Reyes had three hits and scored twice after stolen bases when Bay put the ball in play. Francoeur snapped an 0-for-12 skid with his 2-for-3, two-RBI showing.

"I'm not worried about the drama," catcher Rod Barajas said. "It just seems like we're playing good baseball. We've lost so many close, heartbreak games. That's what kind of brings your morale down, and you feel like you might be in a bigger hole than what you actually are in. We've been in so many games and just haven't gotten that big hit. If anything, that kind of brings your morale down more than anything else that's being talked about."

Said manager Jerry Manuel: "What happens is when you begin to hit, there's a lot more positive vibe going on because guys feel good about themselves. It's difficult to have a team go through the struggles we did offensively and win games and think that's fun. It's fun when they get hits, they run, they score runs and they drive in runs, and those types of things. I think the mindset now is we feel like we have enough guys swinging the bat well that it can be a good night for us if we get some good pitching."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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