Aces off market, yet Mets don't fold

NEW YORK -- Roy Oswalt is scheduled to debut for his new club, the Philadelphia Phillies, on Friday. Aces Cliff Lee and Dan Haren are off the board, too. And with less than 48 hours until Saturday's trading deadline (4 p.m. ET), there is no foreseeable front-of-the-rotation addition destined for Flushing.

At least there was this positive development Thursday: After opening the second half by going 2-9 on a West Coast swing, the New York Mets returned to Citi Field and won a series from the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey took a scoreless effort into the ninth inning and Ike Davis delivered a three-run homer as the Mets won the rubber game 4-0 to avoid slipping to .500 for the first time since June 2. The Mets produced their major league-leading 14th shutout.

Dickey narrowly fell short of tossing his second career complete-game shutout. He nonetheless recorded his first win since June 23, snapping a six-start drought.

Manager Jerry Manuel removed Dickey with one out in the ninth, after a walk to Jon Jay pushed Colby Rasmus to second base. Dickey's lone shutout remains on Aug. 20, 2003, as a conventional pitcher with the Texas Rangers at Detroit, which lost 119 games that season.

The conversation with Manuel this time was amiable.

Dickey had been removed from Sunday's game at Dodger Stadium with two out in the sixth inning against his will. The knuckleballer had stepped awkwardly into a hole -- dug out on the front of the mound by Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw -- and felt a strain in his upper leg/hip area. He originally convinced Manuel to leave him in that game. But after Dickey threw to first base gingerly on a pair of ensuing comebackers, Manuel pulled him while the knuckleballer protested.

Owner Fred Wilpon, who watched Dickey throw in the bullpen between starts, actually complimented Dickey on his competitive spirit.

"It was definitely a more pleasant conversation," Dickey said, comparing Thursday's mound chat with Manuel with the one four days earlier at Dodger Stadium. "... When Jerry came out, I thanked him for a chance to let me finish."

Dickey was examined Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and cleared. He indicated the injury that forced him from Sunday's game was a "non-issue" this time. Actually, Dickey was pitching Thursday on short rest so that Manuel could separate Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey to allow Henry Blanco to catch both of them. Josh Thole caught the knuckler.

Davis, who was back in the cleanup slot with David Wright given a day off for only the second time this season, produced a three-run homer in the third inning off Cardinals right-hander Blake Hawksworth. Davis now has 15 homers, tied with Johnny Lewis' 1965 total for fifth on the franchise's rookie long-ball list.

Davis estimated spending three hours and taking 600 swings in a batting cage on his mandated day off Wednesday. He suggested the session allowed him to feel "comfortable in the box."

Still, he downplayed his rookie success, which has included five homers in his past 14 games.

"I'm hitting like .250," Davis said dryly, while actually shortchanging his average by two points. "I'm not that good."

Carlos Beltran gave the Mets a four-run cushion in the fifth when his opposite-field single to left scored Angel Pagan, who had tripled.

As for Oswalt being moved to a division rival, Manuel said: "Obviously you pay attention to it. You don't wake up and live and die with what somebody else did. But when you hear of a move like that, it gets your attention. I'll put it that way. It really gets your attention. Oswalt is one of the top guys out there. To have that piece in the rotation is quite an improvement. No doubt. No question about it."

Asked if the Mets could compete with their rotation as currently constituted -- with Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, who was skipped this turn -- Manuel suggested the Mets could be a contender but would have no margin for error.

Manuel would not answer whether he would have packaged rookie left-hander Jon Niese for Oswalt. Niese is the approximate equivalent of J.A. Happ, who was sent by the Phillies to Houston in the deal that will pair Oswalt with Roy Halladay down the New Jersey Turnpike.

"Things really have to go our way," Manuel said. "Would you like another stopper in your rotation? Of course. That gives you a chance to not be as good with the rest of the group but yet still win a game. Everything has to be good with us at this point to continue to play late [in the season and postseason]. Everything has to go well for us."

When asked if he was a little jealous of the Oswalt acquisition, Manuel just smiled, patted the inquisitor on the arm and walked away.

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

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