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Pagan reluctantly fills leadoff spot

New York Mets' Angel Pagan celebrates after scoring

New York Mets' Angel Pagan celebrates after scoring on Carlos Beltran's double to right in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles. (July 4, 2011) Credit: AP

SAN FRANCISCO -- The loss of Jose Reyes left Angel Pagan with big cleats to fill at the top of the Mets' lineup. Replacing an MVP candidate is never easy, and when Terry Collins first asked, Pagan wasn't sure he was the man for the job.

Collins recalled the other day that Pagan told him the Mets would be better off with him somewhere in the middle, say fifth or sixth, rather than in the leadoff spot.

Collins told Pagan he appreciated the input. Then he told him to expect his name at the top of the lineup card.

With Reyes on the shelf for the foreseeable future -- at the very least another two weeks -- Pagan can expect an extended run as the Mets' new leadoff hitter, which he was again for Friday night's series opener against the Giants at AT&T Park.

It's not as if Collins had a choice. The only other Met who comes anywhere close to the required skills for that role is Scott Hairston, and that's a distant second to Pagan -- whose two-run homer to right-center off Ryan Vogelsong in the fifth inning Friday night gave the Mets a 2-1 lead. (Nate Schierholtz's solo homer into McCovey Cove in the sixth tied it at 2-2.)

A switch hitter with speed, Pagan is not unlike Reyes. But there is only one, 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."

For Pagan, that means more than doing what he can to get on base and become a pest.

It also involves trying to take more pitches -- giving his teammates a better look in the process.

Plus, it's not as though Pagan can't handle the job. In 129 previous starts as a leadoff hitter, he has a .305 batting average and .819 OPS, so he's certainly capable.

With a lineup that has been stripped of David Wright and Ike Davis, Collins has taken extreme measures -- Daniel Murphy as his daily No. 4 hitter, for instance -- so Pagan has to adjust as well.

"In this game, sometimes you're going to be put in situations where you don't feel comfortable doing it," Carlos Beltran said. "But at the same time, he's got the ability, because he's got speed, he puts the ball in play, he's a switch hitter. It's all about approach. You're only going to be the leadoff once."

Beltran was speaking about the start of the game, and Pagan has excelled there, batting .312 in those situations in his career. Though Pagan's accompanying on-base percentage of .333 is a bit light in those spots, Reyes had the same deficiency before his strong showing this season, which just happens to be a contract year.

Pagan has done a pretty good Reyes impression in his absence.

On Monday night, he had a pair of doubles and scored twice in the Mets' 5-3 win over the Dodgers.

On Thursday night, Pagan opened the game with a single off Clayton Kershaw and stole second -- very Reyes-like -- and had two of the team's six hits. Overall, entering Friday night, Pagan was hitting .259 with a .336 on-base percentage and was 17-for-21 on stolen-base attempts.

"I've got to do what I can," Pagan said. "We're not going to be able to replace Jose Reyes. It's going to take help from everybody, picking up each other. But that's baseball."

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