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Pitching, defense putting pep in Mets' step

Starters help ease burden on offense during New York's promising start @RichardJustice

NEW YORK -- Nothing succeeds like success. Or something like that. Maybe the New York Mets aren't using those exact words, but they definitely understand the sentiment.

"It's impossible to beat your chest and walk with a little pep in your step when you're not winning," Mets captain David Wright said. "But when you get a few series wins under your belt and you beat some good teams and you take care of business at home, you start to feel like you gain that confidence."

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That could be exactly what is happening with these Mets. It's a long season with all sorts of challenges ahead. No one wins anything in April. On the other hand, for a team like the Mets, who have not had a winning season since 2008, these first baby steps count for something.

Anyway, at the moment, the Mets are checking all the boxes, and so there are some nice vibes floating through Queens. They won again Sunday afternoon, beating the Marlins, 4-0, at Citi Field. They did it with terrific pitching from Dillon Gee, a couple of dazzling defensive plays from Wright and Daniel Murphy and a two-run home run from Chris Young.

"That's the way we have to play," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We feel good about where we are. We thought we could have won a couple more. That's what it is. That's what the game is."

Thus ended a 6-4 homestand that included winning three of four against the Cardinals and two of three against the Marlins. At 14-11, the Mets are alone in second place in the National League East, 3 1/2 games behind the Braves.

Their rotation has 17 quality starts, which is top five in the Majors. That is what led them on Sunday as Gee pitched eight scoreless innings against a Marlins team that began the day as the third-highest scoring club in the National League.

Mets starters have allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of their past 13 games, and so an offense that is off to a slow start has needed to produce only a little bit.

"We're all feeding off each other right now," Gee said. "Somebody picks us up every day, and that's what good teams do. We've scored a lot of runs the last few days. We're playing well as a team."

The Mets scored a combined 10 runs in their past two games, but they also have four regulars -- right fielder Curtis Granderson, shortstop Ruben Tejada, left fielder Eric Young Jr. and Young -- hitting .200 or less.

"Our pitching staff is the reason we are where we are," Young said. "It's not the offense. They're throwing up zeros and giving us a chance to scrap a couple runs across the plate. The majority of games are going to be close games. They'll give us an opportunity."

Defense? The Mets have some of that, too. Actually on Sunday, they had some spectacular defense, the kind of defense that reflects a growing confidence in making whatever plays need to be made.

It started early when the second Marlins hitter of the game, Marcell Ozuna, hit a slow tapper toward second base. Murphy made a bare-handed grab, and in one motion he made a laser throw to first to get the out.

As nice as that play was to watch, it was only the warmup act. In the fourth inning, Wright sprinted down the left-field line, positioned and repositioned himself and somehow made a dazzling sliding, over-the-shoulder catch of a Casey McGehee pop.

"I kind of guessed right where the ball was going to be," Wright said.

An inning later, Young's home run put the Mets up, 4-0, and that was that. This was exactly what Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had in mind when he remade the club over the winter, adding Young, Granderson and Bartolo Colon via free agency. He just made another move that could end up being important in adding one of baseball's respected old pros, Bobby Abreu.

Collins loves the idea of having Abreu, 40, on his bench because he has had every role imaginable and knows how to prepare for them and how to go to home plate with a purpose. If Abreu's young teammates are paying attention, his influence could extend beyond his actual production.

Every player Alderson added has been part of playoff teams, and so in putting them in a clubhouse with a star like Wright and rising young player like catcher Travis d'Arnaud, the Mets have a different look, if not a different feel.

"We talked in Spring Training endlessly about what it takes to win up here and what we've got to do as a ballclub," Collins said. "We've made some changes we think will help as we get into the middle of the season. We haven't gotten off to the offensive start we thought we might. But we've battled. We've hung in there and battled. When the big guys starting swinging the bats like we know they can, it becomes a different lineup for sure."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

New York Mets, Dillon Gee, David Wright