Mets Hang Tough With Rivals

Hanging tough -- that's the best way to describe the mood of the Mets after they wrapped a pivotal twelve-game stretch against their NL East rivals on a high note Sunday, riding Al Leiter's two-hit outing and Mike Piazza's four RBI to a 5-2 win over the Florida Marlins.

New York finished a true litmus test of their potential to contend in the division by playing .500 ball over 12 games against the Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies, going 2-2 at home against Florida after taking three straight from the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The successful stretch certainly proved a number of items for New York, most importantly that they have no problem playing head-to-head with the elite teams in the division.

That could pave the way for ownership to green-light a move that could bring on extra dollars to solidify the Mets for an improbable run at a pennant.

With Scott Erickson having struggled in his one rehab start at Triple-A, the Mets would be interested in any potential move that could bring New York a frontline starter, even though Matt Ginter – a middle reliever before he was acquired this spring from the Chicago White Sox for Timo Perez - has pitched far better than anyone could have hoped.

Kris Benson of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners have already been named around Shea Stadium as starters that the Mets could be interested in.

Before that happens, however, the Mets will have to keep their good vibes going as they depart from divisional competition and embark on a twelve-game stretch that takes them through the American League Central with stops in Minnesota and Kansas City before returning to Shea to greet Ivan Rodriguez and the rejuvenated Detroit Tigers.

After that, it's no picnic for New York. They'll then split twelve games between the New York Yankees – who swept the six-game season series from the Mets last year – and the red-hot Cincinnati Reds before finally returning to divisional play with a seven-game stretch against Philadelphia and Florida.

RESTING PIAZZA?: It'll be a challenging road ahead for the Mets, made even moreso by the fact that manager Art Howe must somehow find a way to rest his hottest pistol, Piazza, who belted his 13th homer of the year Sunday but hasn't been able to sit out any of the Mets' recent action. In fact, the last time Piazza had as few as two at-bats in a game was May 19.

Even interleague play may not be a help to Piazza's weary muscles, as Howe hinted this week that he might have to use sore-kneed Cliff Floyd as a designated hitter on the artificial turf of Minnesota's Metrodome.

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