NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Minus their top two hitters, the Mets took the field Monday night with an all-too-familiar challenge: find a way to win without their best players.
They did, beating the San Diego Padres 9-8.
Star shortstop Jose Reyes and productive infielder Daniel Murphy were placed on the disabled list, the latest round of critical injuries for a team beset by them over and over the past three seasons.
“They’re very aware of the situation,” first-year manager Terry Collins said. “We aren’t going to feel sorry for ourselves because we’ve got two big pieces of our puzzle out of the lineup. And yes, it’s rhetoric sometimes, but I know they know I believe it. But they’re going to hear it again.”
Reyes is out with a strained left hamstring, the same problem that landed the NL’s leading hitter on the DL last month. Murphy is likely done for the season because of a left knee injury.
“No, I don’t conclude there’s a black cloud hanging over us,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told WFAN’s Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts on Monday. “It’s unfortunate these things happen and you’ve got to move on. It’s part of the game.”
Both players were hurt during Sunday’s 6-5 loss to Atlanta, and Collins acknowledged his team was as down after that game as he had ever seen it.
The Mets, who traded slugger Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez in July, played without third baseman David Wright for more than two months because of a back injury. First baseman Ike Davis has been sidelined since May 11 with an ankle injury and is not expected to return this season. Ace pitcher Johan Santana has been out all year following shoulder surgery.
Still, the club has recovered from a 5-13 start and managed to hover around .500 for months.
“I’m proud of the way they have endured this whole thing,” Collins said. “We’re not done yet and that’s what I’m going to tell them today. If they think for one second that this is over, they’re mistaken.”
Reyes, a four-time All-Star, said he doesn’t think this hamstring strain is as bad as the one that kept him out for 16 days last month.
“We will see him in a couple of weeks, hopefully,” Alderson said.
Still, it’s the latest in a long line of leg injuries for the speedy switch-hitter, and everyone knows that his legs are an enormous part of his game.
“He’s the closest thing to Rickey Henderson that’s in this era,” Padres manager Bud Black said before the opener of a four-game series against the Mets.
The 28-year-old Reyes was having a huge year and he could be primed to cash in after the season, when he can become a free agent. Injury concerns are probably his biggest drawback.
“Will it affect his value? Who knows at this point?” his agent, Peter Greenberg, said before the game at Citi Field.
Angel Pagan moved up to Reyes’ spot at the top of the lineup and hit his third career leadoff homer. Ruben Tejada, recalled from Triple-A Buffalo, started at shortstop.
Collins acknowledged that the Mets must take this opportunity to evaluate whether the 21-year-old Tejada can be their everyday shortstop next season if Reyes leaves town.
“It is disappointing,” Reyes said. “I need to find a way to stay on the field healthy.”
Murphy was fifth in the National League in hitting at .320 and he leads the team with 28 doubles and 49 RBIs. Shaky on defense, he had done a nice job offensively filling in for Davis and Wright — and even occasionally at second base.
That’s where he was when he got hurt Sunday, spiked during a stolen base by Jose Constanza on a clean but awkward play. Murphy said he has a torn medial collateral ligament — the Mets called it a sprain. But he is not expected to need surgery and should be ready for spring training.
“I really feel particularly bad for Murphy because he’s worked very hard to get back to where he was,” Alderson said. “He really personified I think the way this team has played the first two-thirds of the season.”
Alderson and Collins said Murphy could be switched to the outfield next year in an effort to get his bat in the lineup every day, an experiment that was scrapped in 2009.
“We’ll have to see what the makeup of the club is going into the winter time,” Collins said.
Murphy was out of the majors in 2010 because of two right knee injuries, but is confident he’ll heal fine again. He was on crutches in the clubhouse Monday, his entire left leg immobilized in a brace.
“I know how this story ends,” Murphy said. “I know I’ll be back.”
In addition to Tejada, outfielder Mike Baxter was promoted from Buffalo. He came up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and delivered an RBI double.
Baxter grew up in Queens about 10 minutes from the Mets’ home and went to plenty of games as a kid at Shea Stadium, where he won a catholic school city championship in high school with Archbishop Molloy. But he had never been to Citi Field, which opened in 2009, before arriving in the clubhouse Monday.
“It was pretty wild. A great win,” said Baxter, who had dozens of friends and family members cheering his key hit from the stands.
The 26-year-old Baxter went to college at Columbia and then Vanderbilt, where he was a teammate of Tampa Bay ace David Price. He was claimed by the Mets off waivers from San Diego on July 22.
Baxter played in nine games for the Padres last year, going 1 for 8 with an RBI.
Tejada was with the Mets from May 17 to July 20. He batted .250 with 19 RBIs in 52 games, then struggled when he was sent back down to Buffalo, a day after Reyes was activated from the disabled list.
How will the Mets fare without Reyes and Murphy? Can they stay in the wild card hunt? Sound off in the comments below…
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