NEW YORK (AP) -- Willie Randolph smiled easily, joked freely and acted very much as if nothing could possibly spoil his night.
Quite the change in mood from just a few hours earlier.Oliver Perez pitched seven stellar innings and the New York Mets beat the Texas Rangers 7-1 on Friday night, giving their embattled manager a win and momentarily easing the tension in a clubhouse desperate for something good to happen."I'm a fighter," said Randolph, who again is dealing with rumors that his job is on the line. "When the team's losing, I'm going to take that real personal."Perez helped himself by driving in two runs for the Mets, who played small ball to perfection in manufacturing all of their runs. Marlon Anderson snapped an 0-for-25 slump with a base hit and also had a pair of RBIs for New York."We scored some runs and got to breathe a little bit," Randolph said. "It was a big contrast to the way things have been going."Josh Hamilton homered and had two hits for the Rangers, but the best hitting club in the American League managed just one other hit in its first game against the Mets at Shea Stadium.A lot of that had to do with Perez, who's been about as topsy-turvy as the Mets.A disaster one game and dazzling the next, Perez (5-4) gave up one run and three hits to win for the first time since May 18. He struck out eight, including David Murphy to leave the bases loaded in the sixth inning."He threw the ball well," Hamilton said. "He might start off with a slider, then he throws a slider that out of his hand looks like a fast ball. He did real well."After Hamilton lined an 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall with two out in the first, the hard-throwing Perez didn't allow another hit until Rangers starter Scott Feldman delivered the first of his career to open the sixth.By then, Jose Reyes had scored twice and Carlos Beltran also had reached home on an error to give the Mets a 3-1 lead."They were chasing the slider and it was working today," Perez said. "When something's working you stick with it."That something was finally working was a pleasant change for the Mets (32-34), who began the night 7 1/2 games back in the NL East and a season-worst three games below .500 after losing six of their previous seven.The slide has led to fresh reports that Randolph might not make it through the weekend, a possibility that didn't appear to lose any traction when general manager Omar Minaya was noncommittal about the skipper's future before the game."Bottom line is, I'm just not going to answer every report that's out there," Minaya said. "This is a game of performance and you have to do certain things."Perhaps revealing a sense of urgency, Randolph was aggressive from the start.Tied 1-1 in the first, Beltran and lumbering slugger Carlos Delgado were sent on a double-steal with two out. The move paid off when Beltran scored moments later on an error by third baseman German Duran.Reyes swiped second in the fifth for his 24th steal of the season and reached third on Luis Castillo's groundout. He scored on David Wright's sacrifice fly.Things finally unraveled for Feldman (1-3) in the sixth, when the young right-hander gave up four consecutive hits to open the inning and the Mets pushed the lead to 5-1."They were being aggressive and I didn't get pitches exactly where I wanted," Feldman said. "I got a little too much of the plate."Josh Rupe came on and promptly gave up a two-run single to Perez, extending the lead far enough out that not even the Mets' beleaguered bullpen could squander it.Feldman yielded seven runs, six earned, and eight hits as the Rangers dropped to 1-8 when he takes the mound. Feldman hasn't won since May 9."He went out there to find his rhythm," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's one of those guys who hasn't gotten much run support."
Rangers bench coach Art Howe was back at Shea for the first time since serving as the Mets manager. ... Rangers RF Milton Bradley was back in the lineup after a day off. The oft-injured slugger rarely plays three straight days in the field, but plans to with no DH during the interleague series. ... 3B Hank Blalock (carpal tunnel surgery) took batting practice for the first time Friday and could rejoin the Rangers next weekend at Washington. ... Texas played 12 games at Shea in 1974-75 against the Yankees, while their ballpark in the Bronx was undergoing renovations.