Starter John Maine, who was removed after five pitches because of diminished velocity, and manager Jerry Manuel, who remained resolute in his belief that he both protected his pitcher and acted in his club's best interests, engaged in a back-and-forth tiff that overshadowed an otherwise productive win.
David Wright returned to the lineup after a one-game absence to match a season high with four RBIs, Rod Barajas hit his team-leading 10th home run and the Mets overcame Maine's departure after only one batter in New York's third victory in 12 games.
What played out in the first inning still had Maine fuming postgame. Maine insisted the hook came too quick, that neither Manuel nor pitching coach Dan Warthen asked him how he was feeling, and he expressed frustration over an already tough season that took another bad turn.
"I guess they didn't see 95 [mph]," Maine said. "It was a little slow, but it was the first batter of the game. Cut me a little bit of slack. The last couple pitches started getting back to normal. ... They looked for 95, they didn't see it. Whatever."
Said Warthen: "When he is throwing that way, then there has got to be something incorrect in that arm. Something has got to be feeling bad. John is a habitual liar in a lot of ways, as far as his own health. He is a competitor and a warrior, and he wants to go out and pitch, but we have to be smart enough to see that he isn't right, that the ball isn't coming out of his hand correctly."
None of the five pitches Maine threw on a leadoff walk to Nyjer Morgan -- a pair of changeup followed by three fastballs -- exceeded 85 mph. Manuel said Warthen told him that Maine's velocity was off during his pregame session in the bullpen, and Manuel suspected that Maine had altered his delivery to try and compensate for the lack of speed on his pitches.
"When Dan came in from the bullpen, he mentioned to me that [Maine] wasn't throwing over 80 mph in the bullpen. I asked [Maine] if there was anything wrong with him and he said he'd loosen up as he got out there," Manuel said. "When we saw the 82, 83, I told him I didn't want to take a chance on him."
Maine didn't dispute that his pregame warmup left something to be desired, but wanted the leeway to correct his own problems -- something he felt he was due as a veteran.
"I never have any velocity coming out of the bullpen, but that's the bullpen," Maine said. "I mean, it's a different switch that goes on when you go from the bullpen to the mound. That's just the way it is. I know I didn't have the same velocity. I'm not worried about that."
Perhaps that's why the pitcher and manager got into a heated discussion in the dugout after Maine was pulled. Manuel appreciated the competitive nature Maine displayed, but insists he made the correct decision under the circumstances. Maine has experienced right shoulder problems since arriving in a trade from Baltimore before the 2006 season, something that no doubt factored into Manuel's decision.
"He wanted to pitch," Manuel said. "We got into a little exchange about that and I told him I was trying to protect his best interests. I know he's a competitor, he wanted to compete and get out there and say, 'I can do this with what I have.' I told him I wasn't willing to take that chance."
Maine's response: "I didn't get asked [how I felt]. .. They said they saw something and they were taking me out. I'm a little hurt by that. Like I said, it wasn't [100 mph] the first pitch, and I never got asked to really see how I was. They just said I was out. That's what upset me the most."
The Mets already had a 3-0 lead when Maine was pulled in favor of Raul Valdes, who supplied five heady innings of relief to get the win. New York loaded the bases off rookie right-hander Luis Atilano (3-1) on two singles and a fielder's choice that was misplayed for an error. Wright, who was given Wednesday off by Manuel -- his first day off this year -- then hit a three-run double to right-center and New York was on its way to matching its highest run total of the season.
"I'm glad it turned out the way it did, but I'd like to think that either way ... I would have come in and felt this way today," said Wright. "I felt good at the plate, felt like I had good at-bats and hopefully it's something to build on. Hopefully this doesn't become a habit, the days off."
Jason Bay and Ike Davis each contributed three hits, and Jeff Francoeur and Barajas each drove in a pair of runs as part of the Mets' 15-hit attack.
"We have stars on the team," Davis said. "When they're clicking, it's going to be awesome. Hopefully, we get some more games like that when we actually all hit in the same game."
Almost lost in the shuffle was the stellar work of Valdes (2-1), a 32-year-old rookie left-hander signed out of the Mexican League in Spring Training who may have worked himself into contention for a rotation spot with a career-high five innings of relief. With Jonathon Neise on the disabled list with a mild right hamstring strain and the rotation unsettled after this weekend's Interleague series against the Yankees, Manuel said he would consider Valdes for a starting assignment.
"Valdes did a great job," Davis said. "For some reason, that's been happening lately. If our starter goes out early, the long guy shuts them down. It's huge."
Despite the effort of Valdes (2-1), the Mets needed every one of their runs to assure a victory. The Nationals pecked away, scoring three runs in the eighth off Jenrry Mejia and a ninth-inning run against Francisco Rodriguez.
Wright got his fourth RBI in the fifth, when the Mets scored five times and knocked Atilano from the game. Bay singled, Davis doubled and Wright followed with a run-scoring fly to center. After an intentional walk and a single by Barajas, Tyler Walker replaced Atilano and surrendered a two-run single by Francoeur. Walker couldn't field Valdes' bunt attempt and Valdes reached on the error, and Jose Reyes looped an RBI single over third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who fell down. A sacrifice fly by Alex Cora made it 8-1.
Valdes, the losing pitcher Wednesday night, allowed three runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out six. All of Valdes' decisions have come against Washington, and his stint Thursday was the longest outing by a Mets reliever since Darren Oliver threw five innings against Florida on July 7, 2006.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.