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Dickey strikes out eight for 14th win

PHOENIX -- One hundred and two games into the season, the Mets are still somewhat in search of an identity. For three months, they thought they had a real chance to be a playoff team. The optimists among them still do.

But the Mets have also lost 14 of their last 17 games, despite a 5-1 victory over the D-backs on Sunday that allowed them to split a four-game series at Chase Field. That makes them a team in flux. One of the two main stars of the victory, outfielder Scott Hairston, could be on the move this week as the Mets look to improve their future outlook prior to Tuesday's Trade Deadline.

"I know a lot can happen in the next few days, but I'm a Met now," said Hairston, who doubled twice and drove in two runs. "I'm happy to be a Met. I'm enjoying my time here."

The other star of Sunday's game, starting pitcher R.A. Dickey, should remain a veteran presence in the clubhouse for the foreseeable future. And for that, the Mets are glad.

In his final start of his worst month of the season, Dickey pitched through bouts of nausea to hold the D-backs to one unearned run -- a Paul Goldschmidt RBI single in the sixth -- over seven innings. Improving to 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA indoors this season, Dickey (14-2) struck out eight, walked three, and most importantly minimized the role of the bullpen at a time when the Mets desperately needed him to.

"Surprisingly, I had a pretty good knuckleball from the beginning," said Dickey, who said he experienced most of his nausea in the early innings. "I just kept telling myself to stay with it. It was pretty good."

The Mets jumped out to an early lead on back-to-back doubles by David Wright and Hairston against D-backs lefty Joe Saunders in the first. Hairston doubled home another run off Saunders in the fifth inning, finishing 2-for-5. He is now hitting .315 with 12 doubles and nine home runs in 124 at-bats against lefties.

"Right now, once I get to the ballpark I just focus on doing my job," Hairston said, despite admitting that a constant stream of text messages from friends has made that nearly impossible.

Continuing to apply pressure throughout the later innings, the Mets added runs on RBI doubles by Daniel Murphy and Josh Thole in the sixth and eighth innings, respectively, winning for the third time since the All-Star break. In a four-run game, Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell shut down the D-backs in the eighth and ninth.

"We'll take the split," manager Terry Collins said. "We'll take it and move on to the next town."

With 60 games to play, the Mets now sit 12 1/2 games out of first place and 8 1/2 back of the National League's second Wild Card berth. Many of the players who carried them earlier in the season -- Dickey, Wright and Johan Santana, to name three -- have faded to varying degrees, and for various reasons. Dickey has been inconsistent. Wright has been "tired," to use the phrasing of his manager. Santana has been injured.

So the Mets have been forced to make due with a cast of supporting characters led by Hairston, who has crushed left-handed pitching all year long. As much as any one player can, Hairston embodies the current dilemma of the Mets. Trading him would hinder whatever chance they still have to make the playoffs. Keeping him would be throwing away an opportunity to improve for 2013 and beyond.

If nothing else, then, the next two days should provide a glimpse into how general manager Sandy Alderson feels about this club.

Now and later, wins and losses are at stake.

"It's always good to be wanted," Hairston said. "But they're just rumors. There are a lot of players that are involved in those rumors and I'm one of them. I've dealt with this in the past. I've got a job to do. I really try not to focus on what could happen. I just want to continue to help this team win."

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