The Mets unveiled their 2011 schedule Tuesday, but that's about the only sure thing for next season. With Johan Santana's future muddied by yesterday's shoulder surgery, and Francisco Rodriguez facing legal problems, the Mets must use these final three weeks to get a jump-start on their winter plans.
That leaves Jerry Manuel, the club's lame-duck manager, to write out a lineup card for evaluation purposes, which he did by starting Ruben Tejada. Not that wins really matter at this point, but it was a smart choice nonetheless to use Tejada, who had a career-high three hits in helping the Mets to a 9-1 victory over the Pirates at Citi Field.
On Monday, Tejada sparked the winning rally in the 10th inning with a double. Tejada's three hits last night upped his average to .206 and showed glimpses of his offensive potential. After a bloop single in the second inning and an infield hit in the fourth, Tejada doubled off the leftfield wall in the fifth.
Tejada also combined with Jose Reyes on three double plays, including a spectacular turn in the fourth inning, when Tejada backhanded a ground ball up the middle before flipping to Reyes.
"He can play this game, bro," Reyes said.
R.A. Dickey (11-6) allowed five hits and struck out four for his second complete game of the season and third of his career. Dickey, the Mets' de facto ace with Santana sidelined, trimmed his ERA to 2.80 during the 127-pitch effort that took only 2 hours, 17 minutes.
The Mets are likely to need Dickey again next season, but as he enters his final year of arbitration, the 35-year-old knuckleballer is not looking too far beyond his last three starts.
"To be perfectly honest, I haven't given the future too much thought," Dickey said. "I can't take anything for granted. I just have to live in the moment. Focus on living the next five minutes well."
Carlos Beltran and Nick Evans each homered in the third inning, with Beltran adding a two-run double in the fourth. Reyes and Angel Pagan reached base a total of six times and scored four runs. Pagan smacked a two-run double in the second inning when the Mets built a 4-0 lead.
Tejada is one of the few prospects who could use this September as a springboard for an Opening Day job next season. Manuel, who has given journeyman Luis Hernandez an inordinate amount of playing time, now seems intent on giving the 20-year-old Tejada an extended look - and not just against lefthanded pitchers.
"He's going to get the opportunity to play, no doubt about that," Manuel said. "Hopefully, he can continue to swing the bat in the manner that he's doing and raise his average."
Manuel isn't likely to be much of a factor in those decisions with the Mets not expected to renew his contract. And he might be the only one unwilling to go with Tejada on next year's roster, which is going to feature a cheaper, younger group of players, anyway.
"It will probably take a little while for him," Manuel said. "I think it would, but I think he could be serviceable if [other players] do their thing offensively."
The Mets got that type of production from some of their more familiar faces, as well as the little-used Evans, who had two hits and his first home run this season.