New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy, right, avoids Chicago Cubs' David DeJesus (9) after forcing him out and throwing to first base during the sixth inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 7, 2012, in New York. Cubs' Starlin Castro was safe at first base on the play. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Updated: July 7, 2012 7:35PM
NEW YORK — Ike Davis provided more evidence that his early season struggles are receding. Dillon Gee was as good as he’s been all year.
Davis homered, and Gee pitched one-run ball for eight innings to help the New York Mets beat the Cubs 3-1 Saturday and set themselves up to go into the All-Star break on a positive note.
Gee (6-7) gave up seven hits without a walk and struck out four to keep up a run of strong starts by Mets pitchers. They’ve gone at least six innings in 19 of the past 21 games, during which they an ERA of 3.16.
“He was really good today,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s the Dillon Gee we’ve seen.”
Bobby Parnell allowed a leadoff double to Anthony Rizzo, but retired the final three batters for his second save, striking out Steve Clevenger on a 101 mph fastball to end it.
One batter earlier, shortstop Ruben Tejada helped out Parnell by ranging into left field to catch Bryan LaHair’s blooper, tumbling to the grass as the Citi Field crowd let out a roar.
“I didn’t think he was going to get to it, but I’ll tell you, big-time players make big-time plays and that was a big-time play,” Collins said. “He just showed right there that he can play with the elite at shortstop.”
Jeff Samardzija had another strong outing for the Cubs after a bad month. Before he won last Sunday, the right-hander hadn’t had a start longer than 5 1-3 innings since May 29. He went 1-4 in six starts since then. On Saturday, Samardzija (6-8) allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings for his second straight quality start.
“Yeah, I mean, he did great,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “The last two outings before the break, you know, he pitched really, really good. So the confidence level, like I said before, is definitely going into the second half with a good frame of mind.”
Samardzija hit into a double play on a bunt attempt in the third. With one out in the third, he dropped the ball right in front of the plate trying to sacrifice Luis Valbuena to second. Mets catcher Josh Thole pounced on the ball and threw to Tejada to get Valbuena. Tejada fired to first to get Samardzija, who was a star wide receiver at Notre Dame.
Davis’ two-run homer to right that bounced off the facing of the second deck in the third inning and Jordany Valdespin’s solo shot in the second were enough for the Mets to win for the seventh time in 10 games.
After a miserable start this season that had Collins answering questions about sending him to the minors, Davis has seven homers and 28 RBIs in his past 24 games. He still sits sometimes against tough left-handed pitchers, as he did the night before. But he played a central role in the Mets’ near comeback that night, with a two-run pinch-hit single that got New York to within a run before a game-ending double play.
He has 12 homers and 49 RBIs this season, and has brought his average up to .204.
“At one point this year, I was glad to be over a hundred,” Davis said. “It’s amazing to me that I am hitting .200 and I have that many RBIs.”
Although it might be asking a lot to have Davis’ average ever look pretty this season, the first baseman is on pace for nearly 25 homers and 100 RBIs — valuable enough for a corner player in the NL.
“I’ll take those homers and RBIs,” Collins said. “Especially with his defense, because he brings something else to the table that’s hard to replace.”
The Cubs, who have won eight of their past 12 games only had three hits through the first five innings against Gee a day after they had a season-high 18. They finally broke through in the sixth, when Valbuena hit a leadoff double and David DeJesus drove him in with one out. But Chicago still stranded two more runners that inning and couldn’t do anything else against Gee.
Gee had an extra day of rest before Saturday’s start, something that hasn’t always been beneficial. He was 1-5 with a 5.87 ERA this season with more than normal rest. The right-hander produced one of his best starts of the year Saturday, though. His previous longest had been 7 1-3 innings, and he tied a season-low with only one earned run.
“I think I’ve pitched better than my record would show,” Gee said. “I feel like I’m pitching better this season.”
Last year, Gee won eight of his first nine decisions before finishing 13-6. This season, he’s demonstrating the folly of relying on a pitcher’s record to determine his quality, getting more strikeouts, with far fewer walks.
“I can’t really explain the 8-1 (start) last year,” Gee said. “I’ve been a lot more consistent this year.”
NOTES: New York LHP Johan Santana twisted his left ankle in Friday’s game, but the Mets expect him to be ready to start their first game after the All-Star break. ... Cubs SS Starlin Castro was back in the lineup after a day off. He spent the game next to Sveum, who wanted to go over game situations with Castro, who had made some mental mistakes this season and last. Sveum didn’t say what questions he posed to the young shortstop, but said of Castro’s answers: “They were good.” ... The Mets celebrated Chinese-American heritage day with opera, kung fu and live musical performances. They also displayed the flag of the People’s Republic of China on the scoreboard.