NEW YORK (AP) -- When Jimmy Rollins saw New York reliever Duaner Sanchez come out to pitch the ninth inning instead of starter Johan Santana or closer Billy Wagner, he went straight to the batting tee to stay loose.
It didn't matter that he was due up sixth and the Philadelphia Phillies trailed by three runs. He thought they had a chance.
The ever optimistic NL MVP was right.
Philadelphia feasted on New York's makeshift bullpen for six runs with Wagner unavailable because of an injury, and Rollins hit a go-ahead two-run double to help the Phillies to an 8-6 victory Tuesday night to take back sole possession of first place in the NL East.
"It started last year," Rollins said, referring to the Phillies' comeback from seven games behind the Mets with 17 to play to win the division. "You never give up."
The teams entered the three-game series tied for first after the Mets trailed the Phillies by 5½ games on July 4. The Florida Marlins are tied with New York, one game back.
After Santana pitched eight dominant innings, the Mets had to make do without Wagner, who has muscle spasms around his left shoulder joint.
Manager Jerry Manuel said Wagner's availability would be a midgame decision based on how the left-hander felt. But after batting practice he was told it would be better if Wagner took another day off.
"After seeing that, you can't help feeling that you want to be out there," said Wagner, who has 24 saves in 30 chances. "A lot of different things might have happened if I was out there. I'd rather be the guy standing here taking the blame instead of letting my teammates suck on this one."
Manuel turned to Sanchez, a setup man, and he gave up three straight hits to start the ninth. Joe Smith (1-2) relieved and Carlos Ruiz drove in a run with a high bouncer that shortstop Jose Reyes fielded but missed stepping on second base instead of flipping to Damion Easley.
"His mistake was not giving the ball up," said Rollins, a fellow shortstop. "He already made the highlights by making the barehanded grab."
Shane Victorino hustled into second to prevent the first out of the inning.
"Big play of the game was Victorino beating the ball down to second base," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was ejected in the third inning. "That's why we talk about hustle."
Rollins followed with a double that made it 7-5. After an intentional walk to Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard hit a ball back to Feliciano but he had trouble fielding it and could only get one out allowing another run to score.
The Phillies, who entered hitting just .248 over the last 13 games when they went 6-7, could have had a much bigger deficit to make up had they not made two big defensive plays in the seventh.
"I guess we could put the whole notion of not getting timely hitting away for a day," Manuel said.
Right fielder Jayson Werth threw out Endy Chavez at home on a hit by David Wright, and second baseman Chase Utley made a diving grab of pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis' liner with the bases loaded to end the inning.
The last time Santana faced the Phillies on July 4, he gave up two runs in eight innings but the Mets lost 3-2. On Tuesday, he allowed an RBI single to Werth in the first and Victorino's homer in the seventh after he retired 15 of 16 batters. He had four strikeouts, including the 1,500th of his career.
Jerry Manuel said he might have let Santana start the ninth if he hadn't given up a double to Burrell in the eighth.
The Mets took a 5-1 lead against Joe Blanton behind Carlos Delgado's 450th career homer, a two-run shot, Ramon Castro's two-run homer and Wright's RBI double in the second -- Chavez was thrown out at home on a nice relay started by left fielder Burrell.
Blanton was making his first start for the Phillies since being acquired from Oakland last week to solidify a shaky rotation. He took the spot of Adam Eaton, who was 3-8 with a 5.71 ERA.
Blanton came in having thrown 15 shutout innings against the Mets in two starts for the A's and he looked as if he were pitching to form until he walked Reyes on four pitches to open the third. He gave up five runs and eight hits in six innings.
Charlie Manuel was ejected by umpire Marty Foster after the third inning when he went to ask Foster why he tossed coach Milt Thomson after Thomson disputed a checked-swing call by the third base umpire. Thomson yelled at Foster from the bench after he ruled Delgado did not go around on the swing before his homer. It was Manuel's third ejection this season.
The Mets announced the start of their greatest moments at Shea Stadium promotion Tuesday. Fans can go online to select their 10 favorite moments at the stadium, which is closing after 45 seasons. On Aug. 15, the Mets and sponsor Nikon will trim a list of 75 moments -- not all baseball related -- to 10, then fans will vote on their favorite. The top 10, in ascending order of popularity will be revealed during the final homestand, Sept. 22-26.