NEW YORK - Rivalries are built through names and numbers, which might explain the lack of buzz that greeted the Mets as they ran onto Citi Field last night. With their setup reliever gone until at least late August, their dazzling shortstop sidelined with a torn hamstring, and their Phillies-killing first baseman gone for the next 3 months as well, beating their first-place, world-champion antagonists was more about survival than making any kind of statement.

"At this point, any game we win is a huge game for us," manager Jerry Manuel said after his Mets beat the Phillies, 6-5. "That's the mind-set we have to have . . . regardless of who

we're playing."

On a night when New York starter Johan Santana tied a career high by allowing four home runs, the Mets managed this win by taking advantage of the Phillies' suddenly young starting staff - specifically J.A. Happ.

After pitching his way into the starting rotation and performing well in his first three starts, Happ was tagged for five of the Mets' six runs and was lifted with one out in the sixth inning.

David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Ryan Church hit home runs, but the team that took the field was not the one Mets general manager Omar Minaya so hopefully reconstructed over the winter. Santana can hide that on most starts. And the middle of their order is still formidable, but the Mets have way too many of their own problems to gloat over those of the Phillies.

So the pregame news here was not that Brad Lidge had been placed on the 15-day disabled list, but that elbow surgery on Mets eighth-inning reliever J.J. Putz was successful, and that he could begin light throwing in 6 weeks.

"Every game is a huge game for us, until we get healthy," the Mets' manager said afterward.

And while that might be true, it is not promising. Already the Mets are missing first baseman Carlos Delgado, whose revival propelled their surge last summer. Jose Reyes, their offensive-minded shortstop, is missing with a torn hamstring that might eventually land him on that ever-growing disabled list. Francisco Rodriguez recorded his 16th straight save as a Met, but Manuel started the eighth inning with Santana, who gave up a home run to Chase Utley before being removed, much to his disgust. The bottom line, though, is that the Mets will not have the one-two punch that was Minaya's best offseason move, at least until the end of the summer.

And the Phillies? Well, hours after Lidge was put on the DL, Jimmy Rollins provided more evidence that his stroke is back. Again hitting in the sixth spot, his two-run homer in the sixth inning against Santana gave the Phillies a brief, 4-3 lead. Rollins had three hits, including a sharp single to right that led off the ninth inning.

Pushed back to the eighth-inning role he mastered last year, J.C. Romero was his sharpest since returning from that 50-game suspension.

One in, one out. Two in, two out. It's shaping up as another one of those push-me-pull-me summers in the National League East, another one of those battles of attrition.

The Phillies were hunting for a frontline starter.


"The fact that we're going to be missing Brad for at least a couple of weeks and maybe longer than that may change our strategy," general manager Ruben Amaro said. "We may put more focus on a bullpen piece, we may not . . . If I had my druthers, I'd rather hit both areas."

But . . .

"In this day and age, it's tough to make one trade," he added.

The difference is, the Phillies have talent in the minors that other teams covet. The Mets don't, at least not major league-ready talent. Like the Phillies, their best talent has been used already to fill holes. Unlike the Phillies, their best prospects play in the Florida State League.

Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Joe Savery, Kyle Kendrick. Any or all could be used to pry high-priced pitching from cash-strapped teams heading south. All could be key players by the time this war is decided.

Which once again looks to be sometime in late September. *

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