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HOU@NYM: Nickeas belts his first Major League homer

NEW YORK -- Jason Bay's reunion tour began Thursday afternoon with the left fielder roaming around the Citi Field clubhouse, offering greetings and soliciting gossip. Bay wanted details on the morale of the Mets.

"Everybody said the same thing," Bay said. "They said losing stinks."

But Bay's teammates also said they felt encouraged by their recent level of play. Entering Thursday's game, in fact, most of the Mets were noticeably upbeat, despite winning merely one of their previous 10. And if they needed any additional voltage, manager Terry Collins provided it by all but forcing home-plate umpire Doug Eddings to eject him in the first inning.

Watching on television, Collins then witnessed his team deliver a 9-1 victory over the Astros in high definition. Bay lucked into one hit and scored two runs. David Wright thumped the ball. Chris Capuano thrived. And the Mets overcame an injury to Angel Pagan, proving to their manager and their league that they're not ready to flat-line just yet.

"That's just what Terry brings to the table," Wright said. "He's been great about having his finger on the pulse of what's been going on in the clubhouse, the mood of the team. He wants us to bring that energy. And he wants to lead us with that energy."

Though Collins would not admit it, most of his players suspected that he hopped out of the dugout eight pitches into Thursday's game with a singular goal: an ejection. After Eddings ruled that catcher Mike Nickeas trapped a foul tip on what would have been strike three to Angel Sanchez, Collins dove headfirst into a lengthy argument with the umpire, at one point shuffling from side to side to prevent Eddings from returning to home plate. He yelled and he postured and he outstretched his arms, and the Mets craned their necks to watch him.

"I just wanted to get the call right," Collins said.

What happened next may have been coincidence. Or not. Nickeas hit his first career home run in the third off Astros starter J.A. Happ. Wright added a solo shot one inning later, on what Collins called "a perfect swing," then drove in two additional runs with a double in the fifth.

Bay blooped his first hit since last July, a double, into shallow right field in the fourth. Then he raced home on another bloop in the eighth, after right fielder Hunter Pence misplayed his popup into a four-base error.

All the while, Capuano was cruising, using Citi Field's brisk winds to guide his changeup beneath Houston's bats. In seven innings, Capuano ceded nothing more than Matt Downs' RBI single in the seventh, striking out four and walking two.

"He threw the ball well, there's no doubt about it," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He did a pretty good job on a tough night when it was windy and cold."

The only lowlight for the Mets was Pagan's oblique strain, which occurred on a swing in the fifth. But by that time, the Mets were up by five runs, so far ahead that they could not overly concern themselves with what appears to be a minor injury.

By that time, as well, Collins had relaxed in the clubhouse, his once-violent temper long since evaporated.

"The way we were playing, we needed something like that to get us going," shortstop Jose Reyes said of the ejection. "When you see a manager fighting for you, you want to play harder for that guy."

If the Mets now reel off several victories in a row, Collins will look like a mastermind for his confrontation with Eddings, which may or may not have sparked his team. If nothing else, Collins lit a match Thursday and dropped it into a pile of kindling. It's up to the players to do the rest.

And it's up to the left fielder to help.

"Obviously I've seen what's gone on," Bay said in his first game back from a three-week stay on the disabled list. "But I haven't been in it."

Now, Bay is. It did not go unnoticed to Collins when several Mets approached Bay between innings Thursday, asking to talk about at-bats, pitch sequences and other technicalities.

"That tells you the influence he has and what he means on this team," Collins said.

It also did not go unnoticed that Bay raced around the bases on his popup in the eighth, flying home in a situation that would see many players standing satisfied on second. Bay may not hit 30 homers a season with the Mets, as he was once advertised to do. But if he can spark this club with an extra bit of hustle, then perhaps the club may win a few more games.

Only time will tell. For now, as Collins said simply, "It's really good to have him back."

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