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Atop lineup, Daniel Murphy puts Mets on top vs. Cubs

Daniel Murphy is congratulated by teammate David Wright

Daniel Murphy is congratulated by teammate David Wright after hitting solo home run in the eighth inning to take a 4-3 lead against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago on May 19, 2013. Credit: AP

CHICAGO -- Terry Collins would prefer that his daily lineup decisions weren't decisions at all. The Mets' manager would love to have eight names penciled into the same eight spots just about every day.

But until the Mets start scoring runs with any consistency, Collins will continue to reshuffle the names on the board, hoping to find the right combination.

And for one day, at least, it worked.

Hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time all season Sunday, second baseman Daniel Murphy lined a solo homer in the eighth inning to help the Mets rally past the Cubs, 4-3.

"That's probably one of the bigger home runs I've ever hit, just because it's a tie ballgame," said Murphy, who owns a .357 average with four homers in 11 career games at Wrigley Field.

Mets righthander Dillon Gee allowed three runs -- including a two-run homer by Cubs counterpart Travis Wood -- in five-plus innings.

Mets rookie outfielder Juan Lagares slammed his first career homer in the seventh inning, a two-run shot that tied the score at 3-3. Lefty Scott Rice tossed two scoreless innings in relief, part of four shutout innings provided by the Mets' bullpen.

But the biggest blow came from Murphy, who has broken out of his slump by hitting .469 in his last eight games. The Mets have won three of their last four games, salvaging a road trip that began with three straight defeats.

"I feel better with my swing but I'm also getting better pitches to hit," Murphy said. "When the swing's really good and you feel comfortable at the plate, you just don't miss them. I feel like that's kind of where I'm at right now."

And for the moment, he might continue on as the Mets' leadoff hitter. As far back as spring training, Collins said he considered moving Murphy into the top spot, even though he hadn't hit there since 2009.

"It's still always about quality at-bats," Murphy said about leading off.

It's possible that all of Collins' changes will be meaningless in the long term, as some estimates suggest that teams can gain or lose only a handful of runs over the course of a season. Barring extreme and unrealistic situations -- such as batting the pitcher third and all-star third baseman David Wright ninth -- the difference would rarely impact the win-loss column.

But in the case of the Mets, who have struggled to score runs, it seems that the lineup changes can't hurt.

Collins has been desperate to find hitters to get on base ahead of David Wright.

"When we are seeing what we're seeing right now, certainly we're not hitting, we're not getting guys on, certainly you've got to pick and choose," Collins said. "You've got to go with guys who are getting the job done."

For Collins, the challenge should feel familiar. Last season, the Mets used 141 different lineup combinations, more than any other team in the National League except for the lowly Houston Astros. The Mets have used 33 different batting orders this season. That's only slightly above the NL average, but lately, that number has been growing by the day.

It's likely that Collins will turn in lineup combination No. 34 Monday when the Mets begin a three-game set against the Reds. Though he sounded bullish about giving Murphy another crack at the leadoff spot, he seemed far less enthusiastic about whether he will let the slumping Ike Davis hit in the cleanup spot, even with the Reds slated to start three consecutive righties.

"The ideal thing is to have a lineup that you put up every day and it's the same," said Collins, whose situation is far from ideal.

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