Willie-ball in vogue

The Mets stand just one game from .500 entering Friday night's action against the Florida Marlins, having completed a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros with a 4-3 win Thursday.

Suddenly, last week's horrid 0-5 start seems to have been more of a pothole than a ravine, with the Mets showing an exciting brand of aggressive baseball that can only be quantified as "Willie-ball."

Roughly 25 years after Billy Martin's Yankees made "Billy-ball" all the rage in New York, that scrappy style of play has come back into vogue, thanks in major part to Willie Randolph.

When the Mets decided upon Randolph as their recipient of a managerial contract last winter, this was exactly the brand of play that the first-year skipper vowed his club would stick to – moving runners over, hit-and-runs, and not waiting for the three-run homer in the old-school American League mold that Joe Torre's Yankees have fallen into in recent years.

With Randolph's club holding true to that declaration, it's no wonder that the Mets are starting to gain the attention that they've so sorely lacked over the last several seasons.

Thursday night, the Mets scored three times in the seventh inning on that small-ball philosophy, yet another late-inning rally in a string of four victories that began with Sunday's five-run explosion against John Smoltz and the Braves bullpen in Atlanta.

Trailing 4-1, David Wright started the inning with a leadoff walk against Astros starter Brandon Backe, and moved to third an out later on Victor Diaz's double. Franco came in to face pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson, and Anderson chopped a ground ball to first baseman Jeff Bagwell that allowed Wright to score, cutting the deficit to two.

A batter later, Jose Reyes tapped a weak ground ball that Franco pounced on near the third base line, but found no play at first base as Reyes – dubbed "a young colt" this week by Randolph – legged down the line.

Diaz scored, and Franco's night came to a close, having faced two batters and allowed two runs to score. Former Met Dan Wheeler came on to relieve and watched helplessly as Reyes stole second and came in with the eventual winning run on an error by Astros third baseman Mike Lamb.

Chalk up another win for Willie-ball.

The Mets endured a so-so start from Victor Zambrano, who allowed nine hits and four walks while striking out four in a 105-pitch performance. Left-hander Mike Matthews pitched a scoreless seventh to earn his first win as a Met.


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