Maine's Mets cruise past Twins

Maine's Mets cruise past Twins

NEW YORK -- Even Paul Lo Duca, try as he might, couldn't help but notice.

The Mets catcher returned home with the rest of his team on Monday to find Shea Stadium transformed into a makeshift campaign headquarters. Incessantly blaring over the loudspeaker were pleas to vote Lo Duca into next month's All-Star Game, his grinning mug plastered constantly on the scoreboard between innings.

A shameless plug, perhaps, but nine innings later it mattered little. Lo Duca had let his bat do the talking, delivering a key hit to give the Mets a rare June win -- and an even rarer June blowout -- 8-1 over the Twins.

"It was pretty fun," laughed Lo Duca. "I had a couple of Twins hitters come up and say they voted for me before they came up to bat."

And why not? Lo Duca's two-run single in the sixth -- proof that his bruised left elbow was just fine -- blew open a close game, allowing the Mets to truly exhale for the first time in weeks. This was no longer a win, it was a bludgeoning, and it was precisely what the struggling Mets needed.

Lo Duca's hit was one of two for the catcher, who also scored during a late rally. Perhaps he was inspired by all that All-Star talk -- "I voted five times," admitted first baseman Carlos Delgado -- or perhaps he was just plain sick of losing.

"We have too good of a lineup, and I think we've been giving away at-bats, myself included," Lo Duca said. "This keeps the gray hairs away, I guess."

The gray hairs didn't even make an appearance on Monday, thanks in large part to starter John Maine. The right-hander -- under Lo Duca's guidance -- tossed a nearly flawless 7 1/3 innings, his only blemish coming some time after he took a seat on the bench. Reliever Pedro Feliciano allowed an inherited run to strip some of the shine off Maine's night, but at that point, it hardly mattered.

Maine allowed just four singles -- two of them infield hits -- and two walks, lowering his ERA back below three, six days after he pushed it over that mark for the first time all year.

Similar to the Mets but on a smaller scale, Maine had lost four of his last five decisions heading into the night. But this win was so strong, so convincing, that such a streak already seems buried deep in the past.

"The results and the outcome were better," Maine said. "I got away with a few pitches here and there, but I think that maybe things are starting to change for everybody."

They're changing for Carlos Beltran, whose run-scoring double gave him just his second extra-base hit and second RBI of the month. They're changing for Carlos Delgado, whose two hits -- including a home run -- gave him five knocks in the past three games after needing seven prior games just to get four. And they're even changing for Ricky Ledee, whose home run gave him four hits on the season -- one more than he amassed all of last year.

Much of that offense, including Ledee's blast, came in the eighth, well after Lo Duca had broken the game open in the fourth. The Mets tacked on four more runs late in the game, allowing them to really relax for the first time in weeks. Closer Billy Wagner didn't even warm up -- the first time that's happened in a Mets win since June 2 -- and the potential effect it could have on the team is telling.

Credit most of those soothed worries to Lo Duca, who boosted the Mets just with his presence. After taking a pitch off his left elbow on Sunday, Lo Duca's status was hanging in the humid air all day.

"To be honest with you, I didn't even think I was going to play this morning when I woke up," Lo Duca said. "I went to the cage to hit and it was bothering me a little bit, but it was good enough to play."

And good enough to win. Lo Duca's key hit came on an 0-2 count, forcing him to shorten up and drive the ball the other way.

"He's almost better sometimes with two strikes," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "I wish he'd go up there with that approach every time."

Still, it would be premature to assume the Mets are suddenly out of their slump, to dub Sunday's Yankee Stadium massacre the season's official low water mark. But if any game during June's dark stretch has the Mets primed for a turnaround, it's this one.

Heading into Monday as losers of 11 of their past 13, the Mets hadn't won by more than three runs since June 2, and they hadn't won back-to-back games since May. They won't necessarily do that now -- especially not with reigning Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana lurking in the wings -- but it's certainly a leap in the right direction.

Not that the Mets could really have gone in any direction other than up.

"I saw the team today different than other days," Beltran said. "We had a lot more energy. Today, we felt like we were having fun."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.