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Mets Look To Close Ground On Phillies

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

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(AP) — It’s been more than two months since the Philadelphia Phillies last faced the New York Mets, and the three-time reigning NL East champions would rather not relive the memory.

The Mets blanked their rivals throughout an entire three-game sweep from May 25-27, but the surging Phillies appear considerably more confident as they get set to host New York on Friday night.

Philadelphia’s mysterious midseason slump is one reason the club remains two games behind first-place Atlanta.

The Mets became the first team since 1983 to shut out the Phillies for an entire three-game series, part of a stretch when Philadelphia averaged 1.3 runs in 11 games from May 22-June 2.

Despite lacking injured regulars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino, the Phillies (60-48) are playing much better. They’ve won four straight – three since Howard (sprained ankle) went on the disabled list – and 12 of 14 while averaging 5.4 runs.

Raul Ibanez’s RBI double was among the key hits during a game-tying rally in the ninth inning at Florida on Thursday night, and Carlos Ruiz’s home run in the 10th provided the winning margin in the 5-4 victory.

“The other day I was talking to my ma, and she asked me about Howard,” Ruiz said. “I told her we have to keep going and pull everything together. So far, the guys are doing pretty good.”

The catcher also doubled twice, improving to 18 for 41 (.439) with 13 RBIs in his last nine games. Ibanez has been just as hot, batting .447 with 13 RBIs during a 13-game hitting streak.

The duo should provide a challenge for emerging Mets rookie Jonathon Niese (7-5, 3.78 ERA).

After going 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in June and July, Niese’s August got off to a rocky start Sunday against Arizona. He didn’t allow a hit through three innings but ended up surrendering seven runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 14-1 loss.

“They made the adjustments well and I didn’t make the counter-adjustments,” Niese said.

The Phillies had few answers for Niese on April 30, when the 23-year-old left-hander held Philadelphia to four hits and a run in seven innings of a 9-1 road win, striking out seven. That’s one of just two New York victories in its last 11 games at Citizens Bank Park.

Niese hopes for more run support than the Mets have been providing their pitchers lately. New York has totaled eight runs while losing three of four, with star third baseman David Wright going 0 for 15.

The Mets (54-54) also made four errors in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to Atlanta, slipping eight games behind the Braves and six back of Philadelphia.

“That was bad,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “We didn’t play very well. We’re a better team than that. We have to get back on track.”

Facing Joe Blanton (4-6, 5.86) may help. Opponents are hitting .301 against the big right-hander, who has allowed at least three runs in all but one of his 17 starts.

He has worked at least seven scoreless innings in three of his five career starts against the Mets, but he struggled in Queens on May 26, allowing five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-0 loss.

Blanton, however, hasn’t lost at home since May 8, going 3-0 despite a 5.11 ERA in his last six outings in Philadelphia.

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