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Harrell hurls eight strong for the win

For the very last time, the Mets and Astros will meet as National League opponents on Sunday. Of course, neither team is where it wants to be in the standings at the moment, but it's a historic meeting nonetheless.

Both teams entered the league in 1962 and both have represented the NL in the World Series, but Houston will move to the American League in 2013. They're both struggling in the summer of 2012 as the last days of August tick away, both at the bottom of their respective divisions.

With that standing comes opportunity for players to prove one's self down the stretch, and that opportunity continues for the two starters in the rubber match Sunday afternoon.

With the Mets having snapped a six-game losing streak with a victory Saturday, it'll be the Astros' Lucas Harrell against the Mets' Jeremy Hefner in a battle of right-handers.

Harrell had a real tough go of it in his last start, allowing six earned runs over five innings in Houston's 7-0 loss to St. Louis. He still leads all NL rookies with 151 1/3 innings pitched, and he remains the only NL rookie to throw a shutout in 2012.

Against the Cardinals, much of the damage came in a four-run first inning, but Harrell was satisfied with how he finished in using up 104 pitches in those five frames.

"I felt like I battled really hard," Harrell said. "My last two innings, I got back to making good pitches and keeping the ball down. The last two innings, that's what I'm going to take away from this one."

Hefner, meanwhile, is returning from paternity leave for his Sunday start. He, too, is coming off a rocky outing, as he allowed five runs in five innings to the Nationals while throwing just 78 pitches -- all coming after a rain delay of 2 hours, 26 minutes.

"I know Hef was ready to pitch, he just made some mistakes in the middle of the plate," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Astros: DeFrancesco basks in 'home' win
Astros interim manager and native New Yorker Tony DeFrancesco got his first win at the helm Friday in front of tons of friends and family. His parents were there Friday, some college roommates were there Saturday and DeFrancesco got to enjoy a win he hopes is a step in a positive direction for the franchise.

"I can't say enough about what's going to happen around here," DeFrancesco said. "We're going to change the attitude, we're going to change momentum. I know it's only one win, but the guys are at a good place. After the game, they got me with some champagne, and that means we're together. Even though it's been a long season, we've got a long way to go here, and hopefully we can turn this thing around for a little bit."

Mets: Collins believes in bats
• Opposing pitchers haven't had to use a lot of pitches against the Mets lately, and there's likely little coincidence that they also went through one of their deepest offensive ruts in years.

After seeing just 114 pitches in their loss Friday night, Collins just wanted to see some good at-bats out of his hitters, and he believes the personnel is there to do it.

By getting three runs Saturday, the Mets snapped a streak of seven straight games in which they'd scored two or fewer runs. That was the longest such streak in 30 years.

"We've still got the guys in the lineup to do it," Collins said. "We've just got to -- when we get a ball to hit, we've got to put a swing on it and put it on the barrel and hit it where nobody's standing, and that's what we're not doing."

• The Mets will be especially keen on trying to clinch a series victory Sunday. They last won a series at home from July 3-5, when they took two of three from the Phillies.

Worth noting
• With one more game remaining in the all-time NL series between the two clubs, the Astros lead 308-257, and own a 4-1 mark this year.

• Both teams will have Monday off, with the Mets taking the short ride to Philadelphia for a three-game series and the Astros returning home to host the NL West-leading Giants. Comments