SAN FRANCISCO -- Fear the Beard? Not Scott Hairston.
Sent up to pinch hit to lead off the ninth inning with the score tied, Hairston battled Giants closer Brian Wilson for six pitches, then smacked a slider into the leftfield seats to spark a 5-2 victory for the Mets Friday night at AT&T Park.
"You can't help but stare at it sometimes," Hairston said of Wilson's imposing facial growth. "You've got to be focused. I faced him in the past without the beard, and now he has a beard. I've seen his commercials -- his commercials are hilarious. Give him credit. He's pretty funny. But it's just part of his persona, I guess.
"When the music comes on, he comes in, the fans get excited. As a player, your adrenaline kicks in. I love being in that situation. It's a lot of fun."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy called on Wilson to start the ninth and Terry Collins stuck with Hairston, who had only three hits -- and one homer -- in 24 pinch-hit at-bats. Hairston, batting for winning pitcher Pedro Beato, fell behind 1-and-2 but worked the count full before taking Wilson deep.
Although it wasn't a save opportunity, Wilson (6-2) had struggled recently, blowing two chances just last week.
It was Hairston's 12th homer against the Giants, more than his total against any other team. When he returned to the dugout, Hairston received a hero's welcome of head slaps and high-fives.
"We all pull for each other," Hairston said. "It doesn't matter who hit it. It's going to be the same reaction. It goes to show that nobody gives in on the team. Everybody supports one another and it can be somebody else tomorrow doing the same thing. It's great to be a part of it."
"I don't think there's any question we're beating expectations," said Collins, whose team is 5-1 since Jose Reyes went down.
Angel Pagan set up Beltran in the ninth, following Hairston's homer with a drive to center that Andres Torres dropped for a two-base error. After Justin Turner popped up a bunt that Wilson caught, Pagan stole third and scored on Beltran's single off Jeremy Affeldt.
Pagan had given the Mets a 2-1 lead with a soaring two-run homer off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong in the fifth inning.
R.A. Dickey, pitching with a sore left glute and torn plantar fascia in his right foot, allowed two runs in seven innings. He struck out four without a walk. Tim Byrdak and Beato combined for a scoreless eighth as the Mets improved to 11-5 in their last 16 games and ensured a winning West Coast trip with a 4-1 mark and two games remaining.
The Mets, coming off a tough night against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, knew things wouldn't get any easier Friday with Vogelsong, a first-time All-Star who was 6-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 15 starts.
The Giants took a 1-0 lead in the fourth, thanks in part to a leadoff double by Pablo Sandoval that looked as if it could have been caught by Jason Bay. Bay went back on Sandoval's long fly ball but pulled up at the warning track as the ball caromed head-high off the wall. It would have been a difficult catch regardless, and Sandoval later scored on Nate Schierholtz's sacrifice fly.
The sixth inning was not a pleasant experience for Dickey, either on the basepaths or the mound. It was painful just watching him hustle for an infield single on a grounder to a stumbling Miguel Tejada. Then it was almost comical when Dickey did a face-plant running to second on Pagan's inning-ending groundout.
"That's all I had in the tank at that point," Dickey said. "I told my legs to go and they didn't cooperate."
Seeing Dickey take a nosedive had to be unsettling for Collins. But Dickey climbed back to his feet, dusted himself off and slipped out of his jacket for the bottom of the sixth. It was then that Dickey basically tossed his 2-1 lead into McCovey Cove.
With one out, Dickey hung a first-pitch knuckler to Schierholtz, who sent the 74-mph floater for a swim on the other side of the rightfield wall. It was the second "splash hit" for the Giants this season -- Sandoval had the other on July 4 -- and 57th overall for the Giants in the history of AT&T Park.
Schierholtz's kayak-scattering missile into the Cove tied the score after Pagan's earlier blast, which stunned Vogelsong and put the Mets up 2-1 in the fifth inning.
Vogelsong had struggled with his command to that point, walking four in four innings, and allowed a leadoff single to Ruben Tejada in the fifth.
Dickey bunted him to second, but Tejada didn't need the extra 90 feet. Vogelsong fell behind 1-and-0 to Pagan and then left a slider up. Pagan launched it into the right-centerfield bleachers, roughly 430 feet from home plate.
It was Pagan's third homer this season and first since June 15 against Tim Hudson at Turner Field. With that one swing, it was understandable that Pagan had lobbied Collins to bat in the middle of the lineup rather than lead off in Reyes' absence.
Collins recalled the other day that Pagan told him the Mets would be better off with him fifth or sixth. Collins told Pagan he appreciated the input. Then he told him to expect his name at the top of the lineup card.
It's not as though Collins had any choice. The only other Met who comes anywhere close to the required skills for that role is Hairston, and he's a distant second to Pagan. A switch hitter with speed, Pagan is not unlike Reyes. But there is only one Reyes, and Pagan understands he must do what he can to help fill that void.
"We're going to miss him because he's been a big key for us," Pagan said. "But we've been playing without him and we've been winning, too. That doesn't mean we don't need him. We need him. But it's just that we have to play with what we have. We've got to keep battling."