NEW YORK– After two thrilling wins against the defending AL champion Yankees, the Mets opened up their series with the defending NL champion Phillies, looking to gain ground in the NL East.

They sent knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the mound, trying to throw the Phillies off balance for a second straight game as they faced Tim Wakefield on Sunday.

Dickey, coming off of a solid outing against the Nationals in his first start on Wednesday, wasn’t lights-out tonight, but was good enough and got the big outs he needed to get by the potent Phillies lineup.

He got into seemingly big time trouble in the second, as he allowed three straight hits to start off the inning, including getting hit on the left elbow by a line drive off the bat of Ryan Howard.

With the bases loaded and no outs though, he induced a 1-2-3 double play to have a chance to escape. After walking the eight hitter Juan Castro, he struck out pitcher Jamie Moyer to end the inning without allowing a run to score.

Meanwhile, the Mets put their hitting and running shoes on against Jamie Moyer and catcher Carlos Ruiz.

They scored a Reyes run in the opening inning. Jose Reyes singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice by Luis Castillo, stole third, and scored on a Jason Bay groundout to shortstop.

In the second, Jeff Francoeur singled home a run, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.

Dickey got in to trouble again in the third but escaped a bases loaded jam, getting Raul Ibanez to lineout to Reyes at short.

In the fourth, the Mets got a leadoff double by David Wright and he scored on a Francoeur sacrifice fly later in the inning.

In the fifth, they got another Reyes run. After Reyes reached on a bunt hit, he stole second and advanced to third on a groundout by Castillo. He would score on a Jason Bay single as the Mets took a 4-0 lead against Jamie Moyer.

R.A. Dickey would go on to battle through left elbow soreness to pitch six scoreless innings, allowing seven hits, but striking out seven as well.

The Mets replaced him with Raul Valdes in the seventh. It was Valdes’ first appearance since Thursday night in Washington, when he came in to face the second batter of the game, replacing John Maine.

He ended up finishing the game for the Mets, earning the old-fashioned three-inning save.

The Mets weren’t done scoring though in his relief stint. After tacking on a run in the sixth, they broke out for three more in the eighth against former Met Nelson Figueroa.

Raul Valdes, who’s handled the bat well this season, doubled in a run on his own. He was tripled in by Jose Reyes, who was then singled in by Luis Castillo, as the Mets went on to win the game rather swimmingly 8-0.

It was a big time win for the Mets, who reached the .500 mark again at 23-23, won their third straight against tough competition, and cut to within four games of the first-place Phillies.

They continue their series against the Phillies tomorrow night with Hisanori Takahashi on the mound opposing Joe Blanton.

Notes (NYM): Jose Reyes had a breakout game, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored, two steals, an RBI, and a triple.

The Mets, with the win, improve to an NL-best 17-9 at home.

Notes (PHI): The Phillies have now lost three straight games, scoring only three runs and getting shutout twice in that span.

Series probable pitchers:
May 26
New York: Hisanori Takahashi (2010: 3-2, 2.53 ERA) vs. Philadelphia: Joe Blanton (2010: 1-2, 5.06 ERA)
May 27
New York: Mike Pelfrey (2010: 6-1, 2.86 ERA) vs. Philadelphia: Cole Hamels (2010: 5-2, 3.92 ERA)

Upcoming schedule:
New York Mets:
May 26-27 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
May 28-30 @ Milwaukee Brewers

Philadelphia Phillies:
May 26-27 @ New York Mets
May 28-30 @ Florida Marlins

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